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Trucks ready to fight Connecticut’s new tolling plan

Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

A congestion tolling proposal by Connecticut’s new governor that would charge both cars and trucks for using state highways will be strongly opposed by the state’s trucking lobby, FreightWaves has been told.

After initially backing a truck-only tolling plan released by the state shortly after he was elected in November, Governor Ned Lamont changed course by adding a second option, formally unveiled yesterday (Feb. 20) in his biennial 2020-2021 budget proposal to the state legislature, to include automobiles as well.

But the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC), which contends the truck-only plan will hit Connecticut-based trucking companies with hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra costs, considers a car-and-truck option just as bad.

“The news today doesn’t really change anything,” MTAC president Joseph Sculley told FreightWaves. “The proposal is to charge small business owners more money, and we’re still opposed. In fact, with cars now in the mix, I would say we now have allies to fight against this.”

The debate over tolling as a means of paying for the maintenance and improvement of highway infrastructure is heating up on both the state and federal levels. In its first meeting of the new Congress, lawmakers on the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee discussed a so-called “401-k” of funding options, including tolls. Last year, the American Trucking Associations sued the state of Rhode Island over its truck-only toll plan. The lawsuit, which is pending, claims that a truck-only toll is discriminatory and violates federal regulations.

It is unclear how much that lawsuit influenced Lamont’s decision to back instead the truck-and car tolling option.

“Our attorney tells us that if we go to truck-only tolling, it would likely only apply to specific bridges,” Lamont said in his budget speech, which would mean that option’s revenue-generating potential would be just $200 million per year. In addition, toll gantries would be required to be set up near the deficient bridge they are financing, and toll collection couldn’t begin until bridge reconstruction begins – which could take 10-20 years.

By contrast, the truck-and-car, statewide tolling option could be fully implemented by 2025, with the potential to generate $800 million per year. “After 40 years of under-investing in our transportation system, we can’t borrow our way out of this mess,” he added.

The truck-and-car option is a modified version of the state’s initial plan from November, which envisioned using electronic tolling to raise $1 billion through 82 gantries. The modified version reduces the number of gantries to 53, would be limited to Interstates 84, 91, 95, and Route 15, and could be implemented faster, according to budget documents.

To bolster its position against tolling, MTAC points to comments from Jonathan Peters, a finance professor at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

“Tolls, generally, are expensive to collect,” Peters said in recent interview with the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. “It’s not free. There’s a lot of technology and a lot of equipment, and that equipment will have to be maintained and replaced over time.”

Peters said tolling also amounts to a regressive tax “that can be very, very painful for a low-income household. It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for the working poor.”

MTAC’s Sculley said he plans to use legislative testimony and town halls to spread his message against the toll plan.

“We believe the public doesn’t have all the facts,” he said. “When you put them all on the table – including what we’re currently doing with our state transportation funds – people are against tolls. I think you can build consensus that way.”

He also didn’t count out the possibility of a lawsuit. “The courts are always an option if a law is passed that violates federal statute or the constitution.”

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.