Rhode Island truck-only toll plan clears legislature, heads to Governor

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, February 11, 2016

A controversial proposal to fund road and bridge repairs in Rhode Island by levying tolls exclusively on commercial vehicles is on its way to final passage Thursday.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives approved the measure by nearly a 3-to-1 margin on Wednesday night, sending Gov. Gina Raimondo’s plan to the State Senate for final approval. The state Senate approved the measure by a vote of 25-12 on Thursday afternoon, forwarding the plan to the governor to sign into law.

The plan calls for the state to raise and spend more than $500 million over five years from truck-only tolls and borrowing to repair the Ocean State’s worst-in-the-nation bridges.

Both the OOIDA and the Rhode Island State Trucking Association have condemned the proposal since it was first broached by the governor’s office last summer, and there are reports of potential lawsuits over the tolls.

A survey last month of more than 370 OOIDA members in Rhode Island and other northeastern states showed that 75 percent of truckers said they would avoid Rhode Island if the state adopted truck-only tolls.

Small-business trucking companies like M&G Trucking in Pawtucket, owned by Melody Majkut and her husband, say the truck-only tolls would be financially devastating.

“We’re a mom-and-pop shop. … We’ve been running it for 20 years,” she said. “To absorb an expense of this magnitude could mean disaster for our company.”

Majkut said her LTL fleet of 30 trucks normally pays about $1,200 a week in tolls throughout the country. And the math on the new proposal would more than triple her weekly costs.

“The estimated cost that was given to me by the governor’s office… is adding $2,800 to my toll amount each week,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to survive that.

“The politicians say, ‘Well you tack it on and add more to your customers’ (costs),’” she said. “Look, freight’s down, competition’s tough. We can’t just tack on added fees. Rates are dropping right now due to the lack of freight and number of trucks out there. So it’s scary.”

Majkut said she feels as if state lawmakers have “cast aside” the trucking industry in favor of interests that will benefit financially from the program to repair and replace bridges.

“I think it’s awful,” she said. “I feel completely cast aside like our jobs and our businesses are acceptable collateral damage for other special interest groups.”

News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this report.

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