Connecticut may implement tolls and possibly leverage that revenue stream to help finance a potential $1 billion Route 11 extension project in the southeastern portion of the state.
The Senate Wednesday is expected to approve the tolling initiative, according to Derek Slap, spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams. The House passed the bill last week. Democrats control both chambers. Connecticut’s regular legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight.
Gov. Dannel Malloy supports the Route 11 project. Late last month he said his administration would begin environmental and funding studies to extend Route 11 south of Salem and connect it with Interstate 95 and Interstate 395 in Waterford.
“He’s looking at out-of-the-box ways to try to finance the project and tolls are definitely one of the options to make sure that this can get done,” said Malloy spokeswoman Juliet Manalan.
For decades, officials in various administrations have wanted to lengthen Route 11 beyond Salem and link it to I-95. The extension project would run more than eight miles. The toll bill stipulates that the state must end the new tolling once any bonds sold to help finance the Route 11 development are paid down.
“The Department of Transportation must discontinue the tolls when all bonds issued to build the extension have been retired,” according to the bill.
The initiative would allow for tolls on interstate highways and on non-interstate roads. The bill does not detail fees, when tolling would begin, suggested technology to collect tolls, or how much the state could collect from implementing the fees.
Any potential bonding would take nearly three years or more. Kevin Nursick, spokesman for Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, said an environmental and engineering analysis and a funding study on the Route 11 project would take from two to two-and-a-half years to complete.
In addition, the funding analysis will look at different financing options, including the use of public-private partnerships, he said.
The two studies will cost about $5 million, with the federal government directing $4.4 million towards the analysis and the state putting in $600,000.
Nursick cautioned that the $1 billion estimate for the roadway initiative is a very rough figure.
“The cost still needs to be determined, but this is not a small project,” he said. “You’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars — likely around $1 billion — but exactly how much is very difficult to determine at this point.”
Connecticut ended tolling in the mid-1980s after a fatal accident at an I-95 toll plaza. If implemented, this would be the first roadway tolling in the state in more than 25 years.
Nursick said the funding study will examine the state’s different options, with tolling as one potential tool to raise needed revenue. “The governor’s made it clear that if it takes tolling to build this project, then that’s something we should be looking at,” he said.
Connecticut supports roadway and bridge projects with special tax obligation bonds. It had $3.35 billion of STO bonds outstanding as of Feb. 1, according to the official statement of the state’s Series 2011B and Series 2011C general obligation bond sale.
The state has also issued general obligation debt to help finance transportation infrastructure needs.