The year’s first public hearing on the issue of electronic highway tolls got off to a rocky start on Wednesday with both sides engaging in heated debate.
Opinion on the proposal is essentially split along party lines. Gov. Dannel Malloy, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, state Sen. Carlo Leone of Stamford, and longtime Democratic co-chair of the state Transportation Committee state Rep. Tony Guerrera are among those to have expressed support for reintroducing tolls to the state.
Republican Senators Toni Boucher – one of Guerrera’s co-chairs, whose district includes Redding, Ridgefield, Westport and Wilton – Tony Hwang, whose district includes parts of Fairfield, Newtown, Westport and Weston, and Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano are opposed to the idea.
Toll proponents claim a new electronic toll system could bring the state as much as $600 million per year in revenue. Opponents say that many drivers would simply take side roads to avoid highway tolls, increasing congestion on smaller roads and drastically decreasing the revenue potential.
Concerns have also been raised about whether the money collected through tolls would be used for improvements to highways or be diverted to other uses.
State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker testified on Wednesday that, since the federal government must authorize the tolls, the revenues could not be applied to other projects.
Which highways would have tolls, where they would be located, how much they would cost drivers, and whether congestion pricing would be utilized to reduce fares during off-peak hours, are among the questions yet to be answered.
Republican state Sen. Len Suzio, the committee’s co-vice chairman, told Redeker that “to vote on something as dramatic as this – installing tolls or raising taxes – is premature until we do get those answers.”
“It just seems to me that any vote on something like this is premature until you can come before us and say, ‘I’ve got the answers … and here’s the options’,” Suzio said.