Shelton rep opposes bringing back highway tolls

State Rep. Ben McGorty of Shelton said he opposes reinstating tolls on Connecticut’s highways as a way to raise money to address transportation infrastructure needs.

“Legislative leaders and Gov. Malloy are making it clear that putting tolls back on our highways could be a possibility,” said McGorty, who represents almost half of Shelton.

“The governor has been talking about protecting transportation funding with a ‘lockbox.’ I appreciate his late conversion on this issue, but this is the same governor who joined with the majority in the legislature to raid that transportation funding from the last biennial budget for use in non-transportation spending projects,” McGorty said.

McGorty is a Republican first elected in a July 2014 special selection. Malloy is a Democrat now in his second term as governor.

Raiding the transportation fund

McGorty said that Malloy and legislative Democrats moved $110 million from the Special Transportation Fund in the 2013 biennial budget into the general fund for other spending purposes, and that Republican efforts to preserve the integrity of the Special Transportation Fund were rebuffed by legislative Democrats.

“Yesterday [Malloy] wasn’t interested in saving transportation funding, but today he is a champion of it,” McGorty said. “That’s fine. But tolls won’t help us get there, and they remain too large a risk for public safety.”

Transportation issues have come to the forefront of the 2015 legislative session. McGorty said the problems are due to the state’s long-time lack of proper investment in the upkeep of roads and bridges, or what he called “years of neglect,” according to a press release from his legislative office.

Jeopardize federal funding?

A 1983 tractor trailer crash at a Stratford toll plaza that killed seven people prompted the legislature to abolish highway tolls soon after.

McGorty said the closing of the state’s toll plazas made Connecticut eligible for federal funds for surfacing, restoration and rehabilitation of the state’s highways.

The state receives about $500 million per year in these federal dollars, which would be in jeopardy should Connecticut re-institute tolls, according to the McGorty press release.

In addition to Shelton, McGorty’s 122nd House District includes small parts of Stratford and Trumbull.

Impact on congestion, environment

“The list of my concerns about tolls is significant,” McGorty said. “Gridlock on Connecticut’s highways has become unbearable and toll plazas will create added congestion.

"The safety concerns that prompted their closing remain significant and the potential jeopardy to federal funding might negate any resources from the tolls," he said.

“As if that’s not enough,” McGorty continued, “[there is] the environmental concerns that arise from added congestion, and the fact that it unfairly financially discriminates against certain commuters just because of the particular roadway they need to drive on to get to work.”

Hearing on issue was held

A public hearing was held Feb. 25 on HB 6818: An Act Concerning the Establishment of Electronic Tolls at the State’s Borders by the legislature’s Transportation Committee.

McGorty has pledged to oppose any efforts to implement tolls during this session of the state legislature, which concludes in June.