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January 31, 2012

The Five Biggest Lies About Highway Tolls

Like it or not, get ready to pay tolls on our Interstates and Parkways.  Transportation officials in Hartford say there’s just no other way to raise badly needed money for over-due infrastructure repairs.  Tolls may not be popular, but neither are collapsing bridges.
In the last decade’s debate on highway tolling, here are the five biggest lies that opponents have used to stall the return of highway tolls:

1)    The Federal Government Won’t Let Us:  Also known as “We’ll have to return millions in federal funding”.  Not true, as US DOT officials told us at a SWRPA-sponsored meeting in Westport years ago.  The federal government regularly allows tolls to be used as traffic mitigation and revenue raising tools.
2)    Our Highways Should Be Free:  So should ice cream and donuts.  Nothing is free, including the cost of repairing I-95 and removing snow from the Merritt.  Gasoline taxes come nowhere near to raising the needed revenue. Driving is a privilege, not a right. It should come with a cost.
3)    Tolls Will Slow Traffic:  It’s not 1965 anymore.  Tolling doesn’t require highway-wide barriers with booths and gates.  Just look at the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Parkway, where barrier-free tolls using EZPass allow you to pay at 55 mph.
4)    Tollbooths Cause Accidents:   See #3 above.  This happened once, 29 years ago, in Milford, and was used as an excuse to end tolling in the state.  If toll barriers are unsafe, why don’t fiery truck crashes happen daily at the hundreds of other toll barriers around the US?
5)    Highway Tolls Will Divert Traffic to Local Roads:    This may be true, for about the first week.  If people would rather drive for free on the Boston Post Road than pay 50 cents to save an hour by taking I-95, let ‘em.  Few drivers are that cheap, or stupid.

Trust me, I know about tolls and toll booths. I spent three summers in college working as a toll collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge.  The toll was only 50 cents to cross the mighty Hudson, but people still didn’t like paying it.  (Today the toll is $5).

Connecticut pioneered toll roads as early as the late 18th century.  But today our state is facing billions in over-due bridge and highway repairs.  And federal aid for transportation may be cut from $469 million to $301 million. So why are we in this current mess?  Who’s to blame?  Us! 
We’re the ones that stupidly pushed CT lawmakers to cut the gas tax 14 cents a gallon in 1997.  And we’re the ones making it political suicide for legislators today to say they support tolls, even though they know tolls are inevitable.

Pick your poison:  “free” driving on pothole-filled highways with collapsing bridges… or pay a few bucks for a safe, speedy ride.   I vote for the tolls.


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From a reader in Colorado...

Hi Jim, 1st – I’m from Colorado, so the tolls in CT don’t affect me.

2nd – I agree with almost everything you said! I actually love toll roads, however, I don’t understand why there is such a discrepancy in cost – in TX, I paid about 1/3 as much as I do here in CO – I don’t get it?

3rd – The reason for my email: I would be one to vote for lowering Gas Taxes as well!!!! Why? Because those taxes are rarely used for actually doing something about the roads! CT may have been different, but our roads across the country are in bad shape (bridges too) precisely BECAUSE we don’t use those taxes for what they are SUPPOSED to be used for. They end up paying for people who won’t work, for government programs that have little benefit except for the bureaucrats who run them and for some pet project in Podunk, USA.

I want the government to be starved of money so that they get back to what the government is supposed to do, and that is take care of things like on The Five Biggest Lies About Highway Tolls

John Reeb