Tollbooths Shut Down : Connecticut Frees Its Turnpike Drivers

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Associated Press

After nearly three decades of paying, motorists drove the Connecticut Turnpike for free today after the state closed tollbooths cursed as death traps and environmental hazards.

Drivers of the first trucks and cars allowed through the tollbooths without paying honked their horns in appreciation. But some absent-minded motorists still tossed coins into idled machines as they passed.

“We’re as happy as we can be,” said Raymond Vallerie of Vallerie Transport in Norwalk, which runs 150 trucks to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and will save nearly $100,000 a year in toll charges.


Tolls ended at 11 p.m. Wednesday on the turnpike, one of the most heavily traveled roads in the nation, with 90,000 vehicles a day--up to 20,000 of them big trucks. Since 1958, drivers had to stop every several miles and dig into their pockets for change, $1.50 for trucks and 35 cents for cars.

State Trooper Benjamin Chamble said he saw no problems during today’s morning rush hour as traffic slowed to 20 m.p.h. to pass through the one-lane slots between the idled toll booths.

Old habits died hard as “quite a lot of people have been stopping and throwing money into the hoppers,” Chamble said.

Partly because of the eight toll plazas, the turnpike has been one of the most dangerous stretches of Interstate 95. The plazas have been blamed for a number of serious accidents, including a fiery crash in 1982 when a tractor-trailer slammed into a line of cars at one toll station, killing seven people.

Environmentalists also complained of pollution from the exhaust of engines idling as traffic backed up at the booths.

With the accidents in mind, state lawmakers voted in 1983 to remove the tolls from I-95 and two Hartford-area bridges by Jan. 1, 1986, but Gov. William A. O’Neill decided Saturday to shut down the tollbooths earlier.


“The bonds are paid off and it is feasible to remove them posthaste and it shall be done,” he said.