In recent weeks, opponents of Gov. Ned Lamont’s idea to institute electronic highway tolls have staged protests from Greenwich to Danbury. Less visible are the groups mobilizing in favor of tolls.
Through conference calls and in-person meetings, most recently in Middletown, an “agglomeration” of pro-toll progressive advocacy groups from around the state have begun to organize.
“We all know Connecticut has a huge budget problem and no choice but to find as many sources of revenue as possible that are fair and make sense. We cannot leave a stone unturned to meet these financial obligations,” said Jim Low, a Weston resident and leader of the Fairfield County-based organization Indivisible Electioneers.
In the run-up to the 2018 elections, Connecticut chapters of the national resistance organization Indivisible worked to elect Democrats to office and, like Low’s group, are now bonding with other progressive groups to changing residents’ minds about tolls.
A new Sacred Heart University poll showed the majority of residents — 59 percent — oppose highway tolls when asked directly, but pro-toll activists say tolls are a necessary and fair way to fund transportation infrastructure improvements in the state.
Connecticut is the only state between Maine and Virginia that does not have tolls.
“We are paying to help fix their roads, and they are paying nothing to contribute to the cost of the wear and tear they are helping to produce. To me, it’s a total fairness argument,” said Westport resident Gail Berritt, who co-leads the Indivisible Electioneers with Low.
Berritt testified at the March 6 legislative hearing on tolls held at the state capitol, and advocates for tolls on social media using a “Mythbusters” flyer created by the Westport-based progressive group, the Resisters.
Ridgefield resident and Resisters member Angela Liptack made the “Mythbusters” sheet with a few other Resisters who researched tolls for the group. To understand the issues, Liptack said she read through the November 2018 report “Connecticut Tolling Options Evaluation Study” completed by the consulting firm CDM Smith and commissioned by the state Department of Transportation.
“Gasoline tax revenues have been flat for 10 years and are expected to begin declining as cars become more efficient, and as the sales of electric vehicles increase,” the report says.
A new revenue source is needed to provide sustainable and sufficient funds to improve Connecticut’s existing transportation infrastructure and finance highway improvements, such as widening of Interstate 95 between the New York State line and Bridgeport, the report adds.
“I do support tolls because they will replace a revenue stream that is diminishing, they are an appropriate and fair user fee, and trucks will pay more because they do more damage,” Liptack said.
She said the price of tolls for Connecticut residents would be “miniscule” for a typical commute.
Drivers with a Connecticut-issued E-ZPass would pay 4.4 cents per mile in the off-peak periods and 5.5 cents per mile during peak times. Commuters would get an additional 20 percent discount off these charges, which is much lower than the average toll of 6.3 cents per mile for passenger cars in the northeast, the report said.
Trucks would be charged a base rate of 8.8 cents per mile in the off-peak and 11 cents per mile during peak hours. In total, a statewide toll system could result in $950 million net annual revenue, with 40 percent of it coming from out-of-state vehicles, the report said.
Tolls are not the sole answer, but rather one piece in a larger plan to get the state’s finances back on track, Low and Liptack said.
“We have complicated problems and they’re complicated solutions. We lean too quickly to criticism when someone comes up with a solution to a problem,” Liptack said.