OOIDA, state association condemn Rhode Island truck-only toll plan

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 1/29/2016

A first-of-its-kind proposal that would dip exclusively into truckers’ pockets to finance bridge repairs in the state of Rhode Island was already being hailed by the trucking industry as “the worst possible solution to address the state’s transportation needs.” The proposal has been tweaked.

But the new compromise proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo and members of the state legislature on Thursday is still primarily centered around establishing truck-only tolls in the Ocean State to pay for bridge repairs.

OOIDA State Legislative Affairs Director Mike Matousek condemned the amended proposal, which now expressly prohibits the extension of tolls to passenger vehicles without approval of voters in a statewide referendum.

"Governor Raimondo's truck-only toll proposal was a bad idea from day one, and that hasn't changed,” Matousek said. “I hesitate to use certain words, but it feels discriminatory and punitive. If the state moves forward with this first-of-its-kind proposal, the industry can send a message simply by avoiding Rhode Island whenever possible. We certainly wouldn't be upset if it’s a total failure."

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Christopher Maxwell said his organization remains steadfast against tolls, and also suggested that truckers would look to avoid Rhode Island in the future rather than paying tolls.

“After vetting the new plan, it is clear that RIDOT and the legislature have once again based a plan on bloated truck counts and without regard for mass diversion around Rhode Island,” he said in an email to Land Line.

“Ultimately, these two factors will undermine the revenue projections and our business community will bear the impact of this failed policy. Our association and its membership will testify to these facts in the coming week,” Maxwell stated. “Ultimately, if we do not defeat this legislatively, and we remain confident that we will, the ultimate jury on this program will be the trucking industry and its full discretion to avoid Rhode Island altogether. That’s something that they cannot control.”   

In May, Gov. Raimondo proposed the state toll only truckers to pay off the $1.1 billion in bonds to fix roads and bridges. The Rhode Island Trucking Association filed a formal public-records request with the state transportation department in December, seeking more details about the plan. At that point, neither the toll rates nor the proposed locations of gantries had been made public record.

The amended proposal drops the total number of toll gantries from 17 to 14, and caps the toll to cross the state at $20, down from $30 in the initial proposal. The total bonding for the project was cut in half from $600 million to $300 million.

In October, the state trucking association released a proposed alternative to Raimondo’s toll plan that would increase the current 34-cent diesel tax by 18 cents to produce an estimated $10.8 million annually. It also proposes increasing the truck registration fee by $500 per year to produce a projected $1.6 million annually; dropping proposed tax credits and other sweeteners the governor proposed last June to reduce the new cost of truck tolls on Rhode Island-registered businesses; and redirecting the $13.5 million to bridge and road maintenance.

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