NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – A new voice is speaking out in the battle over bringing tolls back to Connecticut highways. This week the governor’s committee tasked with coming up with a way to pay for his huge, $100 billion dollar transportation overhaul will meet to come up with ways to pay that bill. One issue firmly on the table is bringing tolls back to Connecticut.
This state was outraged back in 1983, when a fiery crash killed seven people at the Stratford toll plaza. That accident was the flashpoint that forced the state to tear down the toll booths. On January 19, 1983 a semi-truck full of potatoes barreled into a line of cars waiting to pay the toll at the Stratford toll booth. There was an explosion and huge fire. Seven women and children were killed, most burned beyond recognition. A toll booth worker heard a little boy crying, and out of one of the twisted cars he pulled three year old Mark Piscitelli.
“I can remember the guy pulling me out of the car. “ “I remember sitting in the toll booth on the side of the highway watching the car explode.” “I remember too much from that day” Piscitelli said.
Mark Piscitelli is now 36 and lives in New York City. To this day he keeps photos on the wall of the loved ones he lost that day. His big sister, 18 year old Tammy who was driving that day, and his brother Joseph who was six. Another child who was a family friend was also in the car. He died the next day. Since the accident Piscitellis says he has struggled with survivors guilt and bouts of addition. And he says he is watching the battle over bringing tolls back to Connecticut.
“They don’t care about if somebody else loses their life for them to get money I believe. “ “ It doesn’t affect them so, It doesn’t matter I think,” Piscitelli said.
In the days and weeks following the accident there was an uproar in Connecticut. Petitions were gathered to do away with tolls in this state. Two years later the toll booths were gone from I-95.
Fast forward 32 years. Governor Malloy has a 30 year, $100 billion dollar plan for a transportation overhaul, and no money to pay for it. Tolls are once again in play.
Democratic State Representative Tony Guerrera is leading the charge to bring tolls back to Connecticut. He is pushing for what is called “Open Road Tolling,” meaning there would be no toll booths at all. Right now a handful of states are trying them. Massachusetts plans to go all open road tolling by 2017.
“It’s a total non-booth system, electronic that just has a steel bar that goes over the highway with transponders and lasers that shoot to the transponders and without a transponder it just takes a picture” Guerrera said.
Republican State Senator Tony Boucher is leading the fight against bringing tolls back to Connecticut. She calls tolls a huge, unfair tax, and she says with Open Road Tolling, collecting from drivers who don’t have a transponder will eat away toll profits.
“Most states still have that cash lane, still have that stop.” “And there if there are toll lanes again that raises the whole issue of safety all once again” Boucher said.
Piscitelli says that while time is fading the state’s horror over what happened to his family, he cannot forget. He says maybe there is a better way.
“Just don’t think all about money.” “It’s about family and they are going to find ways to pay for the roads, with or without the tolls, maybe there are other ways they can find.”