Rhode Island lawmakers push plans to thwart truck tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/14/2017

There is a renewed call to repeal plans to charge commercial drivers to access Rhode Island highways.

Dubbed “Rhode Works,” the one-year-old law permits the state to move forward with plans to collect tolls on large trucks. Tolls are estimated to be $3 at each gantry, or a maximum of $20 per day.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation recently announced a $68.9 million deal with an Australian multinational firm to design, build, operate and maintain the planned 14-toll system. Toll collection is slated to begin this fall using gantries previously used for collecting Sakonnet Bridge tolls.

The agency estimates toll revenues will raise about $45 million annually once fully implemented. The money is supposed to be used for bridge replacement and reconstruction around the state.

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry/Warwick/West Warwick, introduced a bill to repeal the truck tolls.

She has referred to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s toll plan as a “con job.” Morgan argues that the actual revenue via truck tolls would be only about $7.4 million after accounting for all overhead costs.

“This is an apparent attempt by RIDOT to mislead the public about the full costs of the toll program,” Morgan said in prepared remarks.

Morgan is pursuing a plan to sideline the collection of tolls primarily along Interstate 95, and on state and U.S. highways. She participated in a recent House Finance Committee hearing on the topic.

“The Rhode Works bill is irresponsible,” Morgan stated. “It’s an albatross around the necks of Rhode Island consumers.”

A separate effort, H5334, would slow down the process of erecting gantries or other toll facilities. Sponsored by Rep. Robert Quattrocchi, R-Cranston/Scituate, the bill calls for one gantry to be in use for six months, or until any litigation is resolved, before moving forward with plans for additional gantries.

OOIDA and the Rhode Island Trucking Association have condemned the truck-only toll plan since it was unveiled nearly two years ago.

Quattrocchi said it makes sense for the state to hold off on plans to start erecting toll gantries all around the state.

“Rather than putting in this whole infrastructure that we really don’t know what is going to happen with it – especially since state trucking associations and national trucking associations have promised us we will be seeing some severe lawsuits,” Quattrocchi told committee members.

Another bill from Morgan, H5782, would create a restricted trust account for revenues raised via tolls, the fuel tax, and vehicle fees. The account would be used to pay for the maintenance and construction of state roads and bridges.

“The intention of this bill is to say that all the money we bring in that is supposed to go to roads and bridges actually goes to roads and bridges, and it doesn’t go to parks, gardens, and scenic amenities,” Morgan said. “That’s what people care about when they are driving.”

One more effort, H5381, would ensure that motorists are not next in line to be burdened with paying tolls. Sponsored by Rep. Blake Filippi, R-Charlestown/New Shoreham/South Kingstown/Westerly, the bill would create a state Constitutional amendment that voters decide on any new highway or bridge toll.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Rhode Island, click here.

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