Today, state transportation officials are warning, this state needs to find a way to pay for another round of highway rehab before things reach the danger point again. And there's no money around to do it.
Gas tax revenues (theoretically used to pay for transportation upgrades) are expected to decline as more people drive more efficient cars and trucks or use mass transit. The state is deep in debt. And federal aid dollars look to be cut.
"We already have billions of dollars in unfunded projects," says state Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick.
Just one example is the "Hartford viaduct," which carries I-84 across part of the Capitol City. The damned thing is in poor shape and getting worse. Tom Maziarz, head of DOT's planning bureau, says the viaduct will need replacement in less than 20 years and could cost as much as $2 billion.
"The DOT is policy-neutral on tolling," says Nursick. "The legislature decides whether that's something the state wants to do."
Of course, the fact the agency has hired CDM Smith, one of the top advocates of highway tolling, to do the $2.2 million worth of toll studies doesn't indicate any DOT support for the concept.
"Yah, the toll industry is going to be pro-toll," acknowledges Maziarz, who adds that what Connecticut is looking for is expertise about what the tolling options might be and how those different possibilities might impact traffic and people's commutes. To do that, he says, you need a tolling expert from the industry.
(Ed Regan, the CDM Smith consultant in charge of the new Connecticut studies was co-author of "Rebuilding Our Interstates, The Case for Tolling," a report Regan used in lobbying Congress for the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association on the toll issue.)
And Maziarz is quick to point out that the new tolling reality is very different from the old days of highway-clogging payment plazas, and a lot better even than the toll situation along the Mass. Pike for example.
Today you can have cameras on gantries over the highway to register E-Zpass markers or the plate numbers of cars that don't have E-Zpasses. No toll plazas would mean the highway would remain "barrier free."
("Leakage analysis," by the way, refers to studies of how many people without E-Zpasses or with expired passes don't pay their toll bills when a state sends them. Maziarz says that money leakage would be about the same as out-of-state drivers or deadbeats who don't pay parking tickets.)
You could have "congestion pricing," to charge higher tolls depending on whether someone was using that roadway during the height of rush hour, to encourage them to drive at different times or on different routes.
Around Hartford, whether there are "high-occupancy vehicle lanes" that don't get much use, there could be "Hot Lanes," where solo drivers would pay to be able to get past traffic jams along with cars carrying two or more people.
Maziarz (sounding a lot like a dude who's swallowed the tolling Kool-Aid) says one of the most popular forms of electronic highway tolling now being used in various states is "express lanes." That involves requiring tolls on only one lane of a highway, so the high-rollers or folks desperate to get someplace quick would pay to get past the jams.
Lawmakers along the borders are freaking out at the thought of "border tolls" at the Connecticut state line. The idea behind those is to make all those out-of-staters who use our highways pay for the privilege. But politicians from those towns worry border tolls would force vast numbers of cars off the highway and onto local streets to avoid paying anything.
Maziarz says the DOT is definitely not considering border tolls. That hasn't stopped some interior lawmakers from calling for them and lots of border lawmakers from worrying.
Then there's the fear that toll money would be used for other things besides fixing our falling-apart transportation system.
According to state officials, the federal funding system would force any toll money collected along a specific transportation corridor to be spent to maintain or improve that same corridor.
None of this, of course, convinces the diehard anti-tollers one little bit.
"I don't want people to feel like they're trapped in the congestion," says state Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton. "I don't want anyone to feel they can't move from one community to another."