Increased Municipal Burden, Disproportionate Impact on Low-Income Drivers Among Possible Effects of Highway Tolls, Report Finds

If Connecticut opts to introduce a system of tolls on the state’s roads to help fund a significant expansion of transportation infrastructure projects in the years ahead, the toll system instituted could run the risk of causing an increased use of local roadways that “could shift the burden of maintenance and congestion to municipalities,” and lower income residents in the state could be faced with “a higher burden relative to their incomes than wealthier Connecticut residents.” Those warnings to policy makers are included in an Issue Brief  by Inform CT that reviews the various tolling options and respective challenges posed.  Connecticut eliminated tolls more than 30 years ago in the aftermath of a horrific accident at the Stratford toll plaza, and state leaders have been in a “perpetual debate about whether to reinstate them ever since,” the paper points out.issue brief

With overhauling the state’s transportation system is a leading element in Governor Malloy’s agenda to boost the state’s economy, renewed attention is being paid to methods of generating sufficient revenue to support those initiatives, and to issues raised in the 2015 policy brief.  Spurred by advances in technology, the possibility of imposing a system of electronic tolls, such as those in use in other states, are among the considerations, with border tolling, distance tolling and congestion pricing among the options.

920x920The issue brief indicated that a disadvantage of a distance toll system on all limited access highways in Connecticut would be that it “could create an incentive for people to use alternative roadways. The increased use of these roadways could shift the burden of maintenance and congestion to municipalities.” The advantage would be that distance tolls “could help to more efficiently allocate the cost of these roadways to drivers who use them the most.”

In analyzing the potential impact of tolls placed at Connecticut’s borders, the policy paper notes that while such an approach would “help to ensure that out-of-state residents driving through Connecticut pay for their use of Connecticut’s roadways,” border tolls “place a disproportionate burden on residents of Connecticut who commute out-of-state to work. This burden is further amplified if we believe that, on average, these out-of-state commuters use a smaller share of the roadways than their in-state commuting counterparts.”

toll optionsCongestion pricing, which provides for higher toll charges at peak traffic times, “helps to limit traffic on major roadways and create an incentive for people to use more environmentally friendly forms of public transportation,” the policy paper indicates.  However, a congestion pricing system “could polarize roadway use by displacing low income commuters during peak driving hours. Congestion pricing could also create displacement effects whereby the increased use of local roadways could shift the burden of maintenance and congestion to municipalities.”Print

The report suggests that “congestion pricing and distance tolls could become more affordable for low income residents if electronic payment systems were implemented that allow for income-based rate reductions.”

Earlier this year, a study panel recommended installing tolls and raising taxes in order to pay for Malloy's 30-year, $100 billion transportation program.  Legislators have said that any decision on the imposition of tolls is at least a year away, as attention focuses during the current session on establishing a method to assure that money allocated to transportation is not redirected to other areas of government.

The issue brief also stress that “a key consideration when trying to outweigh the benefits and costs of implementing tolling in Connecticut is how the revenue from the tax will be redistributed to the residents of the state.” It goes on to highlight that “as the bill stands, the monies raised would go into the Special Transportation Fund but allocation of the monies from there is not specified. The allocation of these funds is an important discussion that needs to take place before the impact of the legislation can be considered in earnest.”

InformCT is a public-private partnership that currently includes staff from the Connecticut Economic Resource Center and the Connecticut Data Collaborative. The mission of InformCT is to provide independent, non-partisan research, analysis, and public outreach focused on issues in Connecticut, and to act as the convener for fact-based dialogue and action.