Before driving down the winding road on why tolls don’t suck, it’s important to give a heads up about the potholes along the way. Not only will tolls will add a new daily expense for drivers, but the cost of shipping may also rise, which would accompany a rise in the cost of foods and goods. The cost of living will increase, but it will most likely not be accompanied by a rise in income. This sucks like a flat tire (potholes, remember?) So how will the benefits (read: revenue) be used in Connecticut? Let’s take a step back and ponder some reasons to keep an open mind about tolls.
1. More than 300 bridges in Connecticut are considered “structurally deficient.” While the Connecticut Department of Transportation doesn’t technically consider them unsafe for cars (yet), it is an overwhelming number which will require millions of dollars in repairs. Repairs per bridge. At this time the Department of Transportation cannot even afford inspectors for the bridges, let alone workers to fix them. This lingering problem becomes more expensive as more time passes.
2. Anyone who’s ever driven from Connecticut to New York City knows that the state of New York squeezes all the money it can get out of driver’s using its bridges. It costs a whopping $15 to cross the George Washington bridge during peak hours without an EZ Pass, and the entire ordeal takes a half an hour or more. For years, out-of-state drivers have been using our roads absolutely free of charge! It’s important to note that the electronic tolls will only be placed on major highways: Interstate 91, Interstate 95, Interstate 84 and Route 15. The estimated cost for those commuting in-state is about 4.4 cents per mile and opposed to 6.6 for out-of-state commuters. Frequent travelers will qualify for discounts. Truthfully, road upkeep is not free, it’s extremely expensive and the D.O.T. is desperate for another source of revenue for projects which are essential. We all depend on and benefit from the roads, and we are privileged to live in a country with such advanced and convenient infrastructure. Roads are not privately owned, they are owned by the government to serve the people, so they must be federally funded.
3. Traffic is another reason to consider tolls. Traveling on any interstate during rush hours is a nightmarish, anxiety-inducing ordeal. The proposed tolls may help relieve the traffic by giving people one more reason to carpool with their neighbors or coworkers, or to perhaps reroute their trip to avoid tolls altogether. The D.O.T. published a congestion relief study in 2016 which determined that at the current rate of yearly increase in congestion, by 2040 Hartford will be totally gridlocked during peak hours. To properly prepare for this, the study suggests that infrastructure needs to be redesigned to accommodate the daily traffic bomb. The cost is exorbitant, and the state coffers are empty.
4. Public transportation in Connecticut isn’t great. Only about 4% of the population uses it, and it doesn’t efficiently serve suburbs, especially in more rural areas of Connecticut where people have long commutes. For the most part, America’s middle class has no option other than to drive, which accompanies a slew of expenses: gas, insurance, taxes, and now tolls?! As a state, we are entirely dependent on automobiles for almost all of our traveling. It wasn’t always this way. In the 1800s Connecticut was dependent on streetcars. Houses for the upper class sprang up near the stops, creating what we know today as ‘suburbs.’ The system was extremely functional and even posh, but it entirely disappeared by the 1940s, when automobiles became affordable to the general population and highways popped up. Today, streetcar cities like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington are some of the most efficient examples of public transportation in the world. Imagine streetcars in Connecticut, just imagine it. Some may say “But Connecticut is lame/there’s nowhere to go.” But on the other hand, public transportation would foster investments in cities and grow markets for existing or aspiring businesses. There would be things to do in Connecticut’s cities. If more people could depend on safe and adequate public transportation for their daily work commutes, then congestion would drastically decrease, and Connecticut would become more sustainable overall.
5. There has been a recent migration of people, especially young people, from the suburbs into once-dilapidated cities. This back-to-city phenomenon is often the catalyst for investments and economic growth in the cities. Some examples are Chicago, Illinois, Brooklyn, New York, and Austin, Texas. Hartford has many vacant houses, apartments and office spaces. (Read: cheap). It certainly fits the bill regarding its unused potential and lack of capital. But why? Let’s take it back to the 1950s and phenomenon that struck the US nation: suburban sprawl. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 authorized 41,000 miles of interstate highways, connecting the nation. Before this, cars were not owned by common folks. The highways made it possible, so the companies made them affordable. People spread from cities like wildfire and started taking up a lot of space, for cheap. This left cities without tax revenue, and therefore less capital. So, while most people still work in cities, like Hartford, and use their infrastructure, they do not contribute to the taxes of the city, and the only real way to fix it is for people to move back into them. There’s no reason Hartford can’t be on the map as an east coast destination. Perhaps the tolls could be a motivator for some young people working in Hartford to consider moving there; it certainly would be the cheapest option. The more we can concentrate our wealth in cities, the more taxes will go into their infrastructure and development (not to mention education), which ultimately creates an enabling environment for investors. This could potentially improve the quality of life for Connecticut residents.
The truth is, most people don’t want their convenience interrupted. The minor expense will equate to nothing more than a daily cup o’ joe. At the end of the day, the role of government is to serve its people, but like a business, it literally cannot do its job without revenue. Not to mention, at this point in time, our society’s complete dependence on automobiles is something that needs to change. It will face resistance. Taxes suck, right? It won’t be easy, but it’s up to young people to drive this change– into a future with less cars.
Headline photo: (Photo credit: Jessica Hill from the Associated Press.)
Kelsey Murray is a staff writer for the Blue Muse Magazine.