Toll Tales

Tolls on Connecticut highways are one step closer to reality. The legislature’s Transportation Committee recently gave the “green light” to the state Department of Transportation to begin the 4-year process of planning to reintroduce the controversial devices.

Tolls were phased out over 30 years ago on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, following a deadly accident at the Stratford turnpike plaza. New tolls would be electronic.

Toll plazas were a familiar scene on I-95 more than 30 years ago. A proposed bill would establish electronic (E-Z Pass) tolls.

In their previous incarnation, there were tollbooths on I-95 near the Westport-Norwalk border. But they were not the first in the area.

In 1806 the state General Assembly granted a charter to the Connecticut Turnpike Company. They ran the road from Fairfield to Greenwich — today known as the Post Road.

In return for keeping the thoroughfare in “good repair,” they were allowed to establish 4 turnpike gates. One was at the Saugatuck River crossing — now known as the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

The narrow, wooden Post Road bridge, in an early 1900s postcard from Jack Whittle’s collection. Relics of the toll collection system can be seen at the bottom (east bank of the Saugatuck River.

Four-wheeled pleasure carriages drawn by 2 horses were charged 25 cents. Two-wheeled pleasure carriages drawn by one horse paid 12 cents. Each sled, sleigh, cart or wagon drawn by a horse, ox or mule was charged 10 cents.

The state granted exemptions for people traveling to attend public worship, funerals, town or freemen’s meetings; those obliged to do military duty; “persons going to and from grist mills with grists”; people living within 1 mile of the toll gates, and “farmers attending their ordinary farming business.”

However — for reasons that are unclear — those exemptions applied only to the 3 other toll gates. The Saugatuck River bridge was not included.

Astonishingly, the toll for automobiles over 150 years later was still 25 cents.

I bet that won’t be the base rate if when the new tolls are installed.

31 responses to “Toll Tales

  1. Great! Let’s just keep funding the fiscal irresponsibility in government from local to Hartford! Tolls, casinos, legalized marijuana. Excellent, revenue-producing short term fixes. What? The human toll we’re going to have to pay long term?…..forget it, not important. Let the next generations worry about that. When do we draw the line? From our own out-of-control local school board to the inept politicos in Hartford……where and when does it end?

    • Phil, I don’t think anyone has ever called this Board of Education “out of control.” Why do you say that?

      • This should be about Hartford, civic and fiscal responsibility. Anyone that wants to know why the BOE is out of control can attend the next BOE meeting and the reinstatement meeting of the BOF April 5th or read the recent “the sky is falling” memo from the Superintendent. I urge everyone to do so, especially the seniors who are and will pay the majority of the price with no services in return. Get involved and make up your own minds.

    • Chip Stephens. Staples 73

      Highway tolls are known to be the most regressive of all taxes as a burden on the poor and just a nuisance to well to do.
      They are the most dangerous of taxes causing traffic, diversions causing delay along the avioidence routes and they pollute .
      Thank you Jonathan Steinberg for pushing an agenda that hurts the needy and pisses off your constituents.

  2. Look forward a surprise.

  3. We’re already among the most heavily taxed people in the nation. Only a child would believe in the existence of a lock box, so any revenue from tolls would just go the the general fund. That notwithstanding, why would State Representative Jonathon Steinberg, who submitted the bill to add congestion pricing tolls, feel that further punishing commuters and local businesses is appropriate?

    By the way, the Connecticut Turnpike Company went bankrupt in 1857 – about a decade after the railroad showed up.

  4. Michael Calise

    Most of these schemes cost more to administer than they take in. There is an advantage of course more government employees who will vote to reelect the perpetrators.

  5. Jack Whittle

    As for the toll for crossing the Saugatuck at the Post Road, it was 25 cents for for 2 horse stages, down to 2 cents per each animal (usually a horse) crossing. I recall reading somewhere that the private company running that toll went out of business (thanks to the railroad) and the Town took over the bridge operation, and away went the toll at the bridge.

  6. Len Peterson

    Connecticut state government in the fast lane. Whether you favor the tolls or not, it’s truly appalling that it will take these plodding civil servants four years just to plan the details of the undertaking. How much longer to install the system?

    • Com’on Len, obviously it takes that long to find the most expensive no-bid contract with the firm that will make, or has made, the highest contribution to their and the Governor’s campaign and PAC funds. These things take time you know.

      • Len Peterson

        Phil, I share your rather cynical view of this woeful project but with a slightly different twist. Is it mere coincidence that the planning stage corresponds with the four year election cycle, enabling our governor or his
        groomed successor to gain office before voting commuters witness installation of the new system?

  7. Sven Davidson

    This is in response to Mr. Perri’s post about seniors getting no services in return (for their BoE tax dollars): When my kids were in school, Westport seniors were helping pay for their education. The service that I got was a quality education for my children. Now I’m a senior and I’m glad to repay that debt.

  8. Mr. Davidson: Great point. Bless you for being in a financial position to be magnanimous enough to contribute for unnecessary frills which, in the words of the BOF, will cost every tax payor an additional $800 to $1,000 per annum in taxes. Many seniors are not so fortunate. This is about forcing fiscal responsibility in Hartford.

  9. Elaine Marino

    Great postcard of old Westport! It looks as if the two cars side-by-side on the bridge are having a drag race.

  10. No doubt any toll on 95 would cause a rebound effect of, local drivers in particular, getting off the highway before the toll spot and using an already “turtle speed” Route 1 to avoid the toll regardless of how minimal it may be. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just add a tax to gas sales? I’m certainly not in favor of any extra taxes but that would not affect driver’s quality of life or traffic congestion.

  11. Krystof Bondar

    Every CT state residents should pay optional ( Your choice get one or not ) one time fee every time they renew emission pass. for E-Z pass ,The rest non residents should pay all toll’s passing through the CT state . just like we do going through NY or NJ tolls . and all bicycle entering local streets who do not have driving licenses should go through MVD test and get one time bicycle permit .

  12. Nancy Hunter

    Maybe a “Congestion Charge”– type solution.

    • Solution to what, exactly? Congestion pricing just punishes people for the crime of going to work. Exactly nothing else will change. How much more crackpot social engineering can this once great state take? No wonder it’s emptying out.

      • Nancy Hunter

        Not sure where the boundaries would lie, but think about the funds going toward a more effective/environmentally- friendly mass transit system, which works fairly well in other parts of the world.

  13. Bicycle permit??? that is insane!!!!

    • Krystof Bondar

      Insane is to have all this teens and youngsters on the road not knowing what they are doing some time driving the bikes against traffic , Do You ever drive through Bpt. streets ?. In Europe no one can drive bike with out the bike card or driving permit .Kids over 12 must have bike card. If police stop you they will take the air valve out of yours bike tire and a warning ticket will be given to parents for not having bike card. Bdw you must have a swimming card too if you like to rent kayak .

  14. Bart Shuldman

    While the Governor and his supporters (Steinberg) look for ways to tax CT residents more (tolls), why does CT contInue to offer tax breaks for buying an electric car. The cost to maintain roads and bridges in CT is paid by CT’s gasoline tax and this tax incentive hurts CT in w ways. First, those not driving electric cars are helping to pay for someone to buy an electric car, and then those that drive gasoline cars are paying the cost to maintained CT’s roads and bridges that the electric car owner will not pay for.

    Seems easy, stop the tax break for buying an electric car and then charge the electric car owner a road and bridge ‘use’ fee. At least we will make it fair to all users of CT’s roads and bridges.

    • Nancy Hunter

      Focus more on solutions with long term benefits.

      • Nancy Hunter

        Yes, the gas tax will keep rising as consumption falls. The roads and bridges don’t care what kind of car drives on them. So, whether to focus on the upkeep, or the pollution, or both?

  15. Dave Feliciano

    Small wonder people are voting with their feet, will the last one out kindly shut off the light.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Dave. The budget deficit we face is o key the beginning. This one is $3.5 BILLION. After this one ends you can expect at least &1 BOLLION GO FORWARD FOR YEARS. The state employee and teachers pension plans will increase costs by hundreds of millions a year for the foreseeable future. Add in medical costs and debt and billion dollar deficits for years.

  16. First, I favor congestion pricing. I saw it work very well in other parts of the world. Singapore is a shining example.

    I also do not favor tolls just on the borders. Our state is small. We all live fairly close to a border; some of us just live closer than others. The largest dimension in Connecticut is a measly 96 miles. When I lived in the Midwest, I drove 96 miles just to do an afternoon meeting.

    But I really wanted to tell a favorite Westport toll story. In 1973 or 1974, I spent a week in Hartford with other social studies students at Staples as the interns of State Senator George Guidara, a Westport Republican and a fine man. There were no organized intern programs at the time; George decided (as I think other legislators did) to create a program of his own.

    The best part, we thought, was driving to Hartford with George in his big Buick or Oldmobile convertible. Does anyone remember how large those 1970s GM land yachts were? Or special interest: We experienced our first at-speed rolling, sort of. George’s legislative plates on the car meant he was waved through the toll station at Stratford, and further up to New Haven and Hartford. Like I said, we thought being waved through the tolls was the best part … but it wasn’t.

    The very best part was the night George decided to stay in Hartford — why knows why? A fundraiser? A reception? A caucus? — and told us kids to drive his car without him back to Westport and return in the morning. Have watched George get waved through the tolls, it now happened to us directly.

    I think we took turns behind the wheel to be waved through the tolls. What a thrill!

    I also remember hanging around the Capitol in the days before the Legislative Office Building was constructed. Golly, I sure do appreciate the LOB! I’ve lived in six states and we have the best legislative building I’ve seen, perhaps matched only by the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh.