When I moved to Connecticut in 1975, the Connecticut Turnpike and the Merritt Parkway both had tollbooths. Some years ago, after a terrible accident in which a dozing truckdriver rear-ended cars waiting to pay their toll at Stratford, killing passengers in at least one car, the toll booths were removed.
Now the state, like most others, is strapped for cash, and there are calls to again use tolls to help pay for the roads. But there is a noisy constituency which resists tolls.
Connecticut has among the highest taxes on gasoline in the US, and also the highest pump prices. According to http://www.connecticutgasprices.com/tax_info.aspx, we pay 62.5¢/g [cents per gallon] on gasoline, and 61.4¢/g on diesel. California's are the highest at 63.9 and 72.0¢/g (necessitated in part, I'm sure, by California's 30 year old Proposition 13 which keeps the property taxes of old-timers to a minute fraction of 1% of the property's market value). Alaska's are the lowest, at 26.4 and 32.4¢/g. (These include Federal excise taxes of 18.4¢/g for gasoline and 24.4¢/g for diesel.)
Here are the surrounding states:
Connecticut 62.5 61.4
Massachusetts 41.9¢/g 47.9¢/g
Rhode Island 49.4 55.4
New York 59.6 64.7
New Jersey 32.9 41.9
Pennsylvania 50.7 63.6
Vermont 38.4 50.4
New Hampshire 38.0 44.0
Why did I list so many states? Because 18-wheelers have large fuel tanks -- as much as 300 gallon capacity. That gives them the option to fill them when prices are good, and avoid buying in states with high prices. At 5 mpg, 300 gallons gives a 1500 mile range.
Here are two tables from http://www.icpa.org/consumer_motor.htm showing Connecticut's prices compared to nearby states. First gasoline:
|State||State Excise Tax||Other State Taxes||Federal Tax||Total Taxes Per Gallon||AAA Average Retail Price/Regular Gasoline - 5/8/09||Retail Price Minus Government Taxes|
And then Diesel:
|State||State Excise Tax||Other State Taxes||Federal Tax||Total Taxes Per Gallon||AAA Average Retail Price/Diesel Fuel - 5/8/09||Retail Price Minus Government Taxes|
Long haul truckers can save nearly 40 cents per gallon by buying their diesel in New Jersey. So the effect of collecting 43 cents per gallon for CT compared to NJ's 13.5 cents is to shift the cost of paying for CT's highways onto CT's short-haul truckers, who seldom leave the state. Long-haul gets a free ride.
"Never tax anything
That would be of value to your State,
That could and would run away, or
That could and would come to you."
several years, I made a weekly trip from southwestern Connecticut to
suburban Philadelphia. I'd fill my gas tank at Ft. Lee, NJ, in the
morning, and again as I returned. I seldom bought any gas in
Connecticut. Most drivers of passenger cars don't have that
opportunity. But trucks certainly do. I paid a lot of tolls, and
always thought I was getting a good deal.
Back to the subject of tolls: Connecticut has two main east-west interstates: I-95, which runs along the southern tier, and I-84, which runs from Danbury at the west, through Hartford and then northeast to meet up with the Massachusetts Turnpike en route to Boston. We charge tolls on none of them. Let's look at what some nearby states charge.
Massachusetts Exit 1 to 14 (Stockbridge to Route 128/I-95) 120 miles Auto: $2.70; Truck 5 axles $15.15; Bus: 3 axles $7.15
New Jersey: Exit 1 to 18: 113 miles
- Auto: Cash $9.05; EZPass weekday off peak $6.80; EZPass weekend and peak $9.05
- Truck, Class T2: Cash $18.60; EZPass weekday off peak $16.15; EZPass weekend and peak $17.00
- Truck, Class T6: Cash $37.15; EZPass weekday off peak $32.25.15; EZPass weekend and peak $33.95
- Bus: Cash $14.35; EZPass $13.10 at all times
Garden State Parkway: 172 miles, $3.50
PA Turnpike: end to end 358 miles.
- Passenger car: $24.70 plus $3.75 for the Delaware River Bridge
- Truck Class 3 with 4 axles: $45.00 plus $11.25 for bridge [15,000 to 19,000 pounds]
- Truck Class 5 with 4 axles: $73.75 and $18.75 for bridge [30,000 to 45,000 pounds]
- Truck Class 8 with 4 axles: $175.00 plus $18.75 for bridge [80,000 to 100,000 pounds]
PA I-80: PA proposes to put in "Open Road Tolling," which will not charge passenger vehicles until they pass the second collection point, which is expected to exempt 70% of all cars entering and exiting I-80. Gantries will be placed approximately every 30 miles.
Car rate in 2010: $0.08 per mile; 5-axle trucks $0.30 per mile = $25 and $93 for the entire length of I-80 in PA.
Suppose Connecticut charged trucks $0.30 per mile on I-95. The distance is 112 miles. That would be $33.60 from every truck. To collect $33.60 in state taxes via a state tax of .43 per gallon of diesel, we'd need to sell an average of 78 gallons of diesel fuel to each trucker passing through. At 5 mpg, a through truck uses 22 gallons to get across CT, and that represents less than 10% of a full tank.
It seems to me that imposing a toll on CT's major highways, at least for trucks, makes a lot of sense.
And my opinion is that cars ought to pay tolls as well, particularly at rush hour. I'm intrigued by the I-80 approach, exempting some drivers, particularly off-peak. By shifting some users away from rush hour use of the roads, we may be able to make travel much smoother for all. EZPass technology makes this very doable. (Economics Nobel prize winner Bill Vickrey anticipated EZPass, and saw how it could be used to make things work better.)
I don't think we ought to be asking drivers who live far from our major highways and who never use them to finance the main roads, particularly if we don't ask those who do use them to pay for them.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, large trucks do about 6 times the damage that a passenger car does. Do we want to provide a free ride to those trucks?
User fees seem eminently logical and just. Gas and diesel taxes can be part of that picture, but tolls should also be used. I don't see a good reason to charge higher gas taxes than surrounding states do. But we might be in a position to impose higher tolls, given the scarce alternatives. Few trucks will detour around Connecticut in order to avoid a $20 or even $40 toll. But they might time their trips differently, avoiding rush hour, if we gave them an incentive to do so and a place to park for a few hours near each entry to Connecticut.