Will tolls make 'Connecticut Turnpike' less unpleasant?

On Route 95 in Stamford, Conn., among the most congested stretches of a crowded road.

On Route 95 in Stamford, Conn., among the most congested stretches of a crowded road.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal 24.

People of a certain age will remember the toll booths on Interstate 95 in Connecticut, a stretch we used to call the Connecticut Turnpike. To impatient drivers the booths seemed to come every few hundred yards and must have been a major source of state employment. (Older drivers will also remember the soft bump-bump-bump as they rode over the Nutmeg State’s concrete roads,  once favored in the state over asphalt.)

For various reasons, the tolls and the manned booths where they were collected were removed in 1988. That speeded up traffic for a while but since the very existence of roads spawns cars and that stretch of 95 is close to what became in the ‘90s the boom town of New York City, and its extension in Stamford, the congestion has gotten worse and worse.

Meanwhile, in large part because of Republican anti-tax mania, the federal gasoline tax has not been raised for 24 years and cars have been more fuel-efficient. Thus there’s been less and less money to fix the roads.

And so Connecticut officials are considering bringing back the tolls, albeit this time, of course, the money would be collected automatically through the wonder (and Orwellian nightmare) of electronics. The state would presumably use at least some of that money to help fix up its roads. It’s too bad  that the Feds have been so unhelpful in helping to maintain the Interstate Highway System, on which construction started in the Eisenhower administration.  And the Trump White House has talked (in its usual incoherent way) about shoving more of the financial obligations of public infrastructure back to the states.

My old friend Philip K. Howard, chairman of Common Good, the public-policy reform organization, wrote recently:

“Where can {transportation} infrastructure funding come from? One obvious source is the gasoline tax, which hasn't increased in 24 years. Raising the gasoline tax by 25 cents would raise over $40 billion per year, and fund most needed highway and transit projects. This could be supplemented by a ‘carbon tax’ on other fossil fuels. Another funding source would be tax revenue from repatriated offshore corporate earnings.

“New fees and taxes come out of our pockets, of course. But kicking the can down the road will cost us far more. An hour stuck in a traffic jam is multiple times more expensive than an extra 25 cents on each gallon of gasoline. Deferring maintenance is generally economically disastrous — increasing costs by a factor of 10…’’

“The next time you're in a traffic jam — starting, say, this afternoon — think about Congress. It created a paralytic regulatory structure that prevents fixing infrastructure. Now it also refuses to help pay for it. Only Congress can cut these bureaucratic knots, raise funds, and get America moving again.’’

By the way, a study of taxes of the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (mostly highly developed nations) shows that overall (federal, state and local) tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product ranked the United States as 31st. Denmark was ranked first.