DOT Paving Way for Tolls, Congestion Premium?
What are other states doing to alleviate traffic congestion, and could their strategies work in Connecticut?
It’s an important question to answer because Connecticut has some of the highest congestion costs—and worst highway bottlenecks—in the U.S.
According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area has the nation’s third-highest congestion costs per mile, at $717,041. That’s higher than San Francisco-Oakland and Washington, D.C.
ATRI also found that Connecticut has six of the 100 worst bottlenecks in the country, with Hartford (I-84 at I-91) ranked 18th-worst, and four other chronic jams on the I-95 corridor also on the top 100 list.
In a recent survey, Connecticut businesses identified traffic congestion as their No. 1 transportation concern and said that improving and expanding the state’s highway system would bring the biggest benefit to businesses.
But in two recent forums, state Department of Transportation officials signaled that highway expansion to meet capacity needs was off the table. Instead, they focused on using tolls to fill a variety of needs.
They maintained that tolls would not only create a new revenue stream for future transportation projects, but would also reduce congestion by forcing citizens into mass transit resources.
Their rationale is that imposing tolls on the state’s highways without adding capacity will make single-passenger commuting too time-consuming and cost prohibitive.
The DOT convened local and national transportation experts, along with community and business leaders, to focus on two techniques in particular: electronic tolling and congestion pricing.
At the DOT forums, experts from Florida, California, and Washington discussed highway tolling methods that have helped to reduce roadway congestion in their states.
Technology, they said, now allows tolls to be collected without toll booths, toll personnel, or even a vehicle slowing down–experiences considerably different than what many Connecticut residents are familiar with in New England.
Panelists at the forums also discussed the use of congestion pricing, which allows drivers to choose to pay a toll and use a designated highway lane to avoid traffic jams.
The toll would vary depending on how much traffic was on the highway–in one panelist's city, it varied from $1.25 per trip during off peak hours to as high as $9 per trip during peak travel times. The pricing could be also be imposed on a miles-traveled basis.
The panelists also suggested that to successfully implement congestion pricing in Connecticut, a marketing pitch should focus on providing more options for consumers.
Those willing to pay more to avoid traffic jams, for example, will be able to, while others could opt to use such mass transit, such as buses and carpooling.
Unfortunately, due to the state’s projected deficits in the foreseeable future, public officials may have no choice but to resort to creative alternatives to transportation improvements in order to meet the demands of more cars and trucks on our roadways.
Long Road Ahead
After years of diverting funds away from the state’s Special Transportation Fund to pay for General Fund expenditures, reduced federal funding, and fewer dollars collected from gasoline taxes due to fuel efficient cars, Connecticut does not have the money it needs to keep its transportation system up to date.
Connecticut in fact has a long road ahead to improve transportation, but the state moved up in the most recent CNBC “America’s Top States for Business” study in the transportation and infrastructure category.
That movement—from #49 to #42—reflects some progress already made, and new efforts underway to address this critical need.
Right now, all policy roads seem to be leading to making commuters pay more for efficient travel, or enacting policies that force people off the road and into buses and other mass transit options.
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