There are Access Points on I-95 About Every Mile. Truckers Could Dodge a Gantry by “Going Local” for Only a Mile.
There’s a new game in Connecticut. It’s called dodge-a-gantry. Right now, it is only a virtual game being played on Google Maps.
Governor Lamont’s latest toll plan – he’s had many – is to toll only tractor-trailer trucks at just 12 highway bridges in the state. So what are truckers doing? They are getting ready to game Lamont’s proposed system. They are researching the best toll evasion routes, i.e. the best local roads to use to bypass the intended highway gantry locations.
The governor and his advisors have failed to take into account a unique and fundamental obstacle to imposing tolls in Connecticut.
Almost all existing toll roads in other states are limited-access highways. Vehicles travel for several miles between entry-exit access points. To exit and re-enter these highways in order to evade tolls is an onerous proposition. Actually, in most instances, it is impossible, because every entry-exit access point has a gantry or toll booth, where vehicles are logged in and out and charged for the distance they have traveled.
In contrast, Connecticut’s highways are uniquely open-access with short distances between entry-exit points.
In neighboring Massachusetts, the Mass Pike (I-90) has 24 entry-exit points (and 24 toll locations) over the 141 miles from West Stockbridge to downtown Boston. Here in Connecticut, I-95 has 91 access points over the 105 miles from Greenwich to Stonington.
Erecting tolls at all 91 would be absurd and exorbitantly expensive. Alternatively, gantries spanning across traffic on I-95 would invite trucks to jump off just before a gantry and re-enter a few miles further along just past the gantry.
The proposed high toll rates for trucks would provide motivation to truckers to evade the gantries.
The bridge on I-95 that Lamont would toll in downtown Stamford lies mid-way between Exits 8 and 9 which are less than two miles apart. Local roads run essentially parallel to the highway. A trucker would travel roughly the same distance on those roads. How much longer it might take would depend upon local traffic relative to highway traffic.
Traveling north on I-95, the next bridge proposed to be tolled is in Westport over Route 33 which sits between Exits 17 and 18. These exits are about 3 miles apart. Again, local roads run parallel to the highway. These local roads are well outside the town center with little traffic. Arguably, a trucker wouldn’t lose much time bypassing this gantry.
Continuing north on I-95, the next planned toll location is the bridge in West Haven over the railroad tracks. It sits between Exits 43 and 44 which are less than a mile apart. The obvious local bypass route is also shy of a mile.
These bridge locations illustrate just how “leaky” Lamont’s new proposed system would be. A quick glance at Google Maps shows that most of the other proposed toll locations could be evaded just as easily.
Has Lamont factored significant levels of toll evasion into his revenue projection of $230 million in annual tractor-trailer truck toll revenue? Doubtful.
Even assuming no toll evasion, this projection is suspect. Lamont began with a projection of $800 million for his original all-vehicles 50-gantry toll system. His current proposal reduces gantries to 24% of the original, and trucks account for just 5% of traffic (1.7 billion of 31.7 billion miles driven per year, according to industry statistics) – tractor-trailers alone a lower percentage.
The combination of the reduced elements (24% x 5%) renders Lamont’s new system just 1.2% of his original system. Granted toll rates are higher on the biggest trucks, but high enough to offset this 99% system reduction? Of course, the higher trucker rates are, the greater the incentive for truckers to dodge the gantries.
It would seem quite probable that truckers would bypass gantries. After all, they drive for a living. They would be certain to know how to bypass every one of the 12 planned gantry locations. Truckers would monitor traffic in real time to ascertain when it made sense to “go local.”
Undoubtedly, toll evasion would be significant, if not prevalent. Not only is Lamont unlikely to collect the revenue he projects, but he and Assembly Democrats are unlikely to make many friends in the towns where these bridges are located. If people fear huge trucks driving next to them on the highways, resent the highway traffic congestion to which they contribute, and believe they pound and damage our highways, just imagine how they would feel when, as and if trucks show up en mass on their town streets.
The state may try to close off the bypass routes by closing exits on I-95 and the other highways involved (can it do so without federal approval?), or by forcing localities to create restrictions on local roads (can the state do that?). Doing so might enrage the local citizenry just as much.
This doesn’t seem to be a toll proposal likely to attract the votes of General Assembly Democrats who are undecided about, or opposed to, tolls.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.