Rhode Island truck toll proposal creates backlash

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/18/2015

A Rhode Island state lawmaker is calling for voters to get the final say on an effort to charge many professional drivers bridge tolls.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has offered a $1.1 billion, 30-year toll-financed bridge repair plan that awaits legislative review after the first of the year. Specifically, the governor’s plan permits the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority to issue a $600 million revenue bond to fix more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges throughout the state.

The plan, dubbed “RhodeWorks,” relies on a “user fee” applied to operators of large trucks to pay off the bonds. The unspecified tolls would raise an estimated $60 million annually. Toll taxes would not be charged to motorists, motorcyclists and small commercial drivers.

Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown/Exeter, says she wants the Democratic majority in the General Assembly to include on an upcoming state ballot the governor’s plan to charge the user fees.

“Taxpayers should vote for whether they want bridge tolls in the state,” Costa said in prepared remarks. “The governor may be technically correct by saying taxpayers won’t be on the hook for revenue bonds. She also said that if toll revenues fall short, higher tolls will be charged.”

Costa said the governor has failed to point out that taxpayers would end up paying more for goods and services brought by truck drivers responsible for paying tolls.

“Taxpayers need the whole story and they should have the final say.”

As an alternative to truck tolls, the Rhode Island Trucking Association has offered a plan to increase the state’s 34-cent diesel tax rate and increase truck registration fees.

The group is on board with increasing the diesel tax rate by 18 cents to 52 cents per gallon. A $500 increase in the annual truck fee was also proposed.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has also weighed in on the issue.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs, said the governor’s plan misses the mark.

“OOIDA supports equitable and efficient investments in transportation infrastructure,” Matousek wrote in a letter to the governor shortly after her plan was announced. “Your proposal, however, is neither equitable nor efficient and should not be considered as a potential transportation funding solution.”

OOIDA and the Rhode Island Trucking Association have also communicated with the Federal Highway Administration concerns about whether the governor’s proposal would violate federal tolling rules.

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

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