Connecticut governor moves forward with truck-only toll plan

December 10, 2019

Keith Goble

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The saga in Connecticut over placing the burden squarely on professional drivers for road and bridge upkeep via truck-only tolls continues to evolve.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the state’s majority party are advocating for a plan to collect truck-only tolls on 12 bridges around the state.

The Democratic governor and his party’s leaders are undeterred following a court ruling on truck-only tolls in neighboring Rhode Island.

Connecticut’s toll plan

Gov. Lamont has been active his first year in office to come up with a plan to collect tolls.

Along the campaign trail in fall 2018 Lamont touted truck-only tolls before revising his plan to include an all-electronic toll on all highway users.

He also originally wanted 80 toll gantries throughout the state. A cool reception to the idea among Republicans and some Democrats, as well as many constituents, spurred the governor to revise his plan to about a dozen gantries.

In hopes his concessions would appease enough of the Democratic majority to get a toll component enacted, Lamont recently unveiled a plan to charge car and truck drivers.

Party leaders said they would not support a plan to toll constituents. Instead, Senate Democrats opted to support singling out large trucks for new revenue.

The governor quickly backed his party leaders’ call for truck-only tolls.

Lamont’s administration has released details of a toll plan that calls for large trucks to pay an average toll of $8 each way on 12 bridges.

The most expensive toll locations in Connecticut would be the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95 between Groton and New London and the Charter Oak Bridge on I-91 in Hartford. According to details released by Lamont, the base rate for trucks with a transponder would be $12.80. All other trucks would be charged $19.20.

State officials say the toll plan could generate $180 million annually after municipalities are paid a 5% share of the revenue, starting in fiscal year 2023.

Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95
One of the most expensive toll locations in Connecticut would be the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95 between Groton and New London. (Photo courtesy Connecticut Department of Transportation)

Rhode Island ruling

The biggest potential roadblock for Connecticut’s toll plan is an ongoing legal challenge that Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls are a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In the past week a federal court reversed a lower court decision to dismiss the case brought by the American Trucking Associations. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit states that Rhode Island must face the challenge that tolls are not taxes in federal court.

Lamont says he is not concerned about the latest court action.

“The ruling says nothing about the strength of the underlying legal challenge to trucks-only tolls, which far from being a burden on interstate commerce are a commonsense way to benefit that commerce by asking the in- and out-of-state commercial trucks that do the most damage to our roads to pay their fair share of maintenance and congestion mitigation projects,” Lamont said in prepared remarks.

“This federal circuit court decision, which is not binding in Connecticut, has simply held that truckers may bring their meritless claims in federal court as well as state court,” Lamont stated. “I am confident that the legal arguments for truck tolls will prevail.”

Republican opposition

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said the governor needs to call off his trucks-only tolling plan.

“The court’s decision gives credence to the trucking industry’s challenge,” Fasano said in prepared remarks. “It ties up this issue in litigation for years to come, leaves doubt and uncertainty in the ability to toll only trucks, and creates significant economic risk for taxpayers.”

Fasano and House Republican Leader Themis Klarides of Derby say they are concerned that if the truck-only toll plan is pushed through in Connecticut it is only a matter of time before all highway users will be charged a toll.

Instead, GOP legislators are calling for tapping the state’s “rainy day” funds to cover transportation costs. Using the state’s budget reserves would allow the state to pay off pension liabilities to free up $130 million annually that could be used for transportation.

Additionally, the party wants to see the Special Transportation Fund overhauled to become more efficient with existing revenues.

Lamont says he is opposed to the Republican plan because it “not only gives (truck drivers) a free pass, it asks Connecticut taxpayers to foot the bill and jeopardize the state’s future by raiding $1.8 billion from the rainy day fund.”

“The consensus Democratic proposal is the only viable plan on the table.”

OOIDA challenges claim about truckers

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is among the truck groups opposed to efforts to single out trucks to pay tolls.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA manager of government affairs, has communicated to Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney the Association’s concerns about comments made about many professional drivers “currently paying nothing” to use the state’s roadways.

“We would remind you that Connecticut collects fuel tax and registration revenue from every out-of-state truck for every mile they run on Connecticut highways through apportioned funds from the International Fuel Tax Agreement and the International Registration Plan,” Matousek wrote. “Not only is your statement factually wrong, it also indicates that you know very little about the trucking industry.”

OOIDA encourages elected officials at every level of government “to learn more about the trucking industry before trying to enact laws and regulations that will have a significant impact on the men and women who literally drive our economy.”

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Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.