PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a Republican, Wednesday submitted legislation to repeal the RhodeWorks toll law.
Morgan’s bill would repeal the provisions of the general laws that created the “Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction and Maintenance Fund Act of 2016,” also known as “RhodeWorks, which will impose tolls on large commercial trucks.
RhodeWorks is the road-improvement funding plan proposed by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, which calls for the repair of the state’s deteriorating bridges.
The proposal would fund the additional projects in two ways:
RhodeWorks became law in February 2016.
The truck tolls would likely begin to be imposed in late 2018, a year later than had been expected because the state is still reviewing proposals by several companies to construct the new toll gantries — electronic overhead collection systems used instead of tollbooths — at 14 locations around the state.
The cost of the gantries has been estimated to be $38 million, according to a Rhode Island Senate Fiscal Office analysis of RhodeWorks,
“The Rhode Works bill is irresponsible and should never have passed last year,” Morgan said. “It is a $45 million albatross around the necks of Rhode Island consumers. It will add to our already high cost of living, making it more difficult for average Rhode Islanders to keep their head above water. It will undoubtedly hurt our small businesses who are struggling to remain competitive with rivals in other states not burdened with the extra shipping costs. In other words it will had more weight to an economy that is already dead last.”
In addition, she said, truck tolls are most likely unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Trucking Association joined the American Trucking Associations in praising Morgan.
“We thank her for leadership in introducing this important piece of legislation,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “As our industry knows well, interstate tolls are not the solution when it comes to funding infrastructure improvements — something we care deeply about. The unintended consequences are harsh and counterproductive: interstate tolls punish the local economy, increase traffic and congestion and waste taxpayer money.
“Moreover, the trucking industry will not sit idle while states attempt to turn our trucks into rolling ATMs. The onus is now on the Rhode Island legislature to correct this ill-conceived plan. ATA will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent these proposed tolls on overpasses, including litigation.”
Spear encouraged Raimondo and the Rhode Island legislature to follow the lead of states such as California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, Georgia or Wyoming, which he said in recent years demonstrated the political courage to take the tough vote and approve fuel tax increases with the understanding they remain the most effective and sustainable solution for highway infrastructure funding.
“Make no mistake about it: RhodeWorks won’t work for Rhode Island. It will increase the cost of doing business in our state, divert commerce away from it, and actually widen our budget shortfalls,” said Rhode Island Trucking Association President and CEO Christopher Maxwell. “This is nothing but a veiled tax for Rhode Island citizens and one that places an unnecessary premium on every item sold in the state, thus making Rhode Island less competitive economically.
“We are all in agreement that additional revenues are needed to fund our roads and bridges. The trucking industry has always been willing to pay our fair share. It’s not a matter of if the industry pays, it is a matter of how the industry pays. As other states are realizing immediate gains from fuel tax increases, Rhode Island is losing out as we take a reckless gamble on something other than a tried and true funding mechanism.”
Speaking to the legality of a toll on trucks, Morgan noted that legislation had been introduced to require the governor to install only one tolling gantry to trigger the likely litigation.
“It would prevent the state from spending unnecessary millions on gantries until all legal questions are resolved,” she said. “Despite the protective reasoning behind this common sense measure, she has ignored the suggestion and is proceeding full steam ahead.”