WESTPORT — Against the backdrop of one of Connecticut’s structurally deficient bridges, Westport’s delegation pushed tolls as the best solution to the state’s infrastructure woes.

“Not only is this an opportunity to rebuild Connecticut’s economy, to make sure that our drivers are safe as they travel to and from work, but its also an opportunity to tap into the our-of-state revenue that passes through our roads every year,” state Sen. Will Haskell said Thursday during a news conference at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Just a stone’s throw away from the building stands the 80-year-old bridge that carries Merritt Parkway drivers over the Saugatuck River, one of over 300 bridges in the state recently deemed “structurally deficient” by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

Other bridges throughout the state are over 100 years old, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said. “They’re miracles that they’re still standing.”

The Westport bridge is currently undergoing a $9.6 million reconstruction, but the cost to restore all of Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure is in the billions. Begging the question: Who will pay for it?

Both Steinberg and Haskell are behind an proposal in Hartford to install tolls on state highways, its revenue then used to fund infrastructure improvements. The plan includes discounts for Connecticut drivers.

“I’ve seen spreadsheets that go pages and pages from DOT (Department of Transportation) of things they just can’t get to because the money isn’t there. The reason why it’s so pertinent today is that we have dithered as a legislature for several years now in terms of coming up with an effective solution for what is needed in terms of a significant infrastructure investment,” Steinberg said, adding safe travel is essential to the state’s economic vitality.

Meanwhile, Haskell said incorporating tolls would put Connecticut on a level playing field with neighboring states.

“Connecticut drivers aren’t getting a fair deal,” he said. “We are the only state between Maine and North Carolina that is not asking out-of-state drivers to contribute to the upkeep of our roads.”

People living within 10 miles of a certain gantry shouldn’t have to pay a toll on that gantry, Haskell added, describing a provision he wants to add to the proposal.

“We can do this in a way that’s fair, in a way that’s safe,” he said.

Revenue gathered from tolls could also result in hundreds of construction jobs for years, Steinberg said.

“I’m sure DOT is doing everything they can to make sure that we’re not at risk at any given moment ... but the longer we wait to fix bridges like this all over the state of Connecticut, the greater at risk as we all are,” he said.

Includes reporting by Sophie Vaughan.

lteixeira@ctpost.com