Letter: Reader offers reply to Observer editorial regarding proposal for tolls

To the editor:
I am writing in response to your editorial in the March 27 Bristol Observer entitled “Why tolls won’t help CT.” I feel your characterization of the tolling issue is misleading and misguided.
First, the facts.
In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE – a professional organization that represents the engineers who design transportation systems and the contractors who build them] issued the “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” In this report, America’s Infrastructure [roads, bridges, dams, etc.] was given a grade of D+. Additionally, the report noted that the investment necessary to bring America’s Infrastructure to a “state of good repair” by 2020 totals $3.6 trillion. For Connecticut, the report noted that 1,059 of 4,218 bridges in the state (25.1 percent) are considered functionally obsolete, 41 percent of the 3,350 miles of major roads in the state are in poor condition, and wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years totals $3.6 billion. The full report may be viewed at www.infrastructurereportcard.org.
Yes, it may seem self-serving that ASCE has an interest in infrastructure, but really, the issue affects everyone.
So, how to pay this bill? The answer, partially, is tolls. Although you reference “toll booths” several times in your editorial, this is akin to saying that rotary phones are cutting edge technology. Modern toll facilities typically consist of overhead gantries that allow traffic to pass through at highway speeds. A toll tag such as EZ-Pass is registered by the electronics and the toll is automatically debited from the vehicle owners’ account. The technology is so advanced that those who don’t have a toll tag such as EZ-Pass, will have a picture taken of their license plate and be sent a bill for the toll.
States such as New Jersey, Georgia, and Texas employ highway-speed toll facilities without causing any major traffic backups.
Further information on state-of-the-art tolling projects may be found on websites such as Toll Road News [www.tollroadnews.com.] Here you can read reports of successful highway-speed tolling projects occurring in the United States and around the world.
Tolls located on Interstate highways near the proximity of Connecticut’s borders [ie: 1-95, 1-91, and 1-84] would generate a large income stream that could be dedicated to infrastructure renewal. Although no value has yet been placed on what a border toll may be, I believe a nominal fee of, say, $2, would not cause “…drivers looking to avoid the tolls [to] take a bee-line straight to local roads to save a bit of cash…” as your editorial so erroneously portends. This toll would be equal to the amount we spend every morning on our cup of coffee, or be a small portion of what we spend each day on lunch.
Highway-speed border tolls are on their way to becoming a reality. Legislation is currently pending in Connecticut that would create a “lock-box” for these toll funds. This will ensure that the monies raised by tolls will go exclusively towards infrastructure improvements, and not be able to be raided for other means. Further, Connecticut has recently gained one of 15 slots offered by the Federal Highway Administration to participate in a pilot program implementing new electronic toll systems.
Gov. Dannel Malloy recently proposed a 30 year, $100 billion dollar plan to improve Connecticut’s infrastructure. Information on the program – “Let’s Go CT” – can be found at www.transformct.info. I, for one, am very excited at the prospect of Connecticut becoming a model for improving America’s Infrastructure — including the use of tolls to pay for this program.
In conclusion, your editorial does a disservice to the only logical way to pay for infrastructure improvements: highway-speed border tolls. I believe tolls are the only way to spread the pain of the massive investment that must be made to ensure the continued prosperity for the State of Connecticut.
William J. Cunningham, P.E., M.ASCE
Past-President, Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers Section of ASCE Chair, CSCE Construction Technical Committeeletters to the editor