Talk of tolls resurfaces in Connecticut

Cars drive through the toll booths on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick, N.J., Friday, Oct. 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The horrific crash at the Stratford toll booths that took the lives of seven people in January 1983 is the principle reason why tolls have been banned on all Connecticut roadways for nearly three decades.

It was a major issue in the governor’s race that followed and that’s why the tax on gasoline is so high – it’s the only mechanism the state has for raising money for roads, bridges and other transportation needs.

But as vehicles continue to get better mileage, that tax is falling short. And talk of tolls in Connecticut is back.

“Rather than having the highest gas tax in the United States, maybe we could go to having the lowest gas tax and still have more revenues to fix our roads and bridges,” said state Rep. Tony Guerra, a Democrat on the Transportation Committee.

PHOTOS: 1983 Stratford toll booth crash

Modern technology like E-ZPass greatly reduces the danger of accident-causing backups at toll booths. And many residents are becoming more open to the idea of bringing them back – especially at the state borders.

“Get them going in, going out, just like the Port Authority does and I’d be happy with lower gas, absolutely,” said Gary Shenberg of Vernon.

Even some lawmakers from traffic jam plagued Fairfield County are warming up to the idea.

“We’ve got a real difficult, challenging situation ahead of us,” said state Sen. Scott Frantz, a Republican representing Greenwich. “I don’t think there is any other alternative other than putting in tolls and that doesn’t mean I like them.”

As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced his state budget deal Friday, he was reluctant to even acknowledge that tolls be considered next year, when a potential billion dollar deficit looms.

“If you’re asking, do I think that’s a source of funds in the short run? The answer is no,” Malloy said.

But the governor has promised, if re-elected, to increase spending on road and bridge repair over the next couple years by 165 percent. And with the gas tax a case of diminishing revenue and research saying tolls could generate millions of dollars for the state, the conversation seems far from over.

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