Out of options: Rhode Island truckers file open records request on toll plan

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 12/3/2015

Frustrated by what they say is a lack of information regarding a controversial plan to exclusively toll trucks to generate revenue to pay for state roads and bridges, the Rhode Island Trucking Association has filed a formal open records request seeking more details about the plan.

“Six months later, we felt like if you’re going to ask for a billion dollars from the trucking industry, you might want to let us know where the gantries are going,” the trucking group’s president Christopher Maxwell said in a phone interview with Land Line.

“They claim this is going to be an economic renaissance plan, and they want it to have as little impact on local business as possible. But clearly by not allowing local businesses to assess their operations with knowledge of not only the gantry locations but the toll rates, trucking companies are handcuffed in any sort of projections they might need to assess their future budgets, their fees and bigger picture, whether they even want to stay in Rhode Island,” Maxwell said.

In May, Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed that the state toll only truckers to pay off the $1.1 billion dollars in bonds to fix the roads and bridges. The trucking association filed a formal public-records request with the state transportation department on Monday. Spokespersons for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and from the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The records request seeks among other things:

  • The full Level 2 Traffic Collection Report completed by CDM Smith and RIDOT including, but not limited to, all data used in the study methodology, the methodology used in determining its traffic counts all empirical traffic data used in the study.
  • A statewide roadway map with specific locations of all proposed toll gantries for the RhodeWorks program.
  • The specific tolling locations used in preparing the study titled The Economic Impact of RhodeWorks: An Accelerated Transportation Restoration Plan report and the CDM Smith Level 2 Traffic Collection Report.
  • All written and electronic correspondence between RIDOT and the Office of the Governor regarding toll and bridge locations for RhodeWorks program. 
  • All correspondence both written and electronic between RIDOT and the Federal Highway Administration related to the federal tolling exemption.

Raimondo has previously stated that her administration would not release specific locations and amounts for the truck tolls until after state lawmakers vote on her toll-financed bridge repair plan, according to The Providence Journal.

Maxwell says the governor’s reticence to reveal the information by “hiding behind the premise that they need enabling legislation to go forward” is “not plausible.”

“They obviously have a plan that’s going to generate over $1 billion. How can they have the plan on paper if they don’t know the points where you’re going to toll?”

In October, Maxwell and the 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.

OOIDA State Legislative Affairs Director Mike Matousek has said the governor’s tolling plan is “the worst possible solution to address the state’s transportation needs.”

“We share the majority of concerns outlined by the Rhode Island Trucking Association,” Matousek said. “Our requests to the Governor for additional information have also gone unanswered, but either way RhodeWorks is a bad idea. We look forward to working with the Rhode Island Trucking Association and state lawmakers to develop a transportation funding alternative that enjoys widespread support. That can only be accomplished if we all work together.”

Maxwell said the trucking association “will fight this to the end.”

“Ultimately, if Rhode Works should pass, the trucking industry will have the final say on this in the form of diversion off the interstate, within our state and around our state for thru-traffic, which is the ultimate target of this.”

“There’s a much better option than (traveling through) Rhode Island going from Connecticut to Massachusetts,” he said. “It’s clear trucks will make it a policy to avoid Rhode Island. We’ll have all these beautiful gantries and there won’t be any trucks to pay for them. Rhode Island has a ‘Build it and they will come’ mentality, but time and time again they have built it and the project has imploded under its own weight.”

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