Rhode Island applies to toll I-95

| 8/22/2011

With the blessing of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island DOT is seeking federal authority to convert Interstate 95 into a toll road at the Connecticut border. Truckers say tolls on an existing interstate amount to a double tax.

Rhode Island officials filed their application at the end of June, seeking entry into one of the Federal Highway Administration’s pilot programs designed to toll an existing interstate for reasons of rebuilding or rehabilitating the facility.

The state Department of Transportation says the toll revenue would pay for a new I-95 interchange at Route 4, replace the Providence Viaduct and bring the state’s 43 miles of I-95 and 24 miles of I-295 into a state of good repair.

In addition to federal authority, RIDOT will also require legislative approval to implement tolls. In 2008, a governor-appointed committee suggested that the department could look into tolling I-95 as an option to generate revenue and upgrade facilities.

Truckers already pay taxes and other user fees to run interstate highways, so a toll on the existing I-95 would amount to an additional tax, according to OOIDA.

“Tolls are taxes, and paying both tolls and fuel taxes amounts to double taxation,” Association leadership states in its list of highway funding principles. “OOIDA adamantly opposes the sale or lease of existing roads and efforts to convert non-tolled roads into toll facilities.”

According to Rhode Island’s application, the state does not plan to farm out toll operations to private investors. Instead, the state would partner with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to operate the roadway and administer tolls. The application also states that the agency does not intend to seek congestion pricing for the roadway that would lead to variable rates depending on time of day.

Some parts of I-95 are already tolled between Maine and Florida, but those tolls were in place prior to the enactment of federal restrictions on interstate tolling. FHWA’s pilot programs only allow for a limited number of states to implement tolls on an interstate.

Some states have tried unsuccessfully to gain entry into the tolling programs, namely Pennsylvania with its failed applications to toll I-80 in recent years.