Rhode Island DOT looks to hike trucks-only tolls amid court battle; public input sought

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rhode island truck tolls
rhode island truck tolls
A truck passes through one of Rhode Island's six operating toll gantries. (courtesy: Providence Journal)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the Connecticut legislature prepares to vote this week on Gov. Ned Lamont’s controversial and long-debated “trucks only” toll proposal, a similar system in Rhode Island continues to operate while legal action to overturn the tolls is underway.
The original Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal to charge tolls on trucks only included 14 locations, all bridges RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient. Tolls collected at each bridge would be used to repair and upgrade the specific location.
RIDOT is accepting public comment through March 1 on a plan to increase the toll on a newly installed gantry at the Oxford Street Bridge in Providence, a bridge crossing Interstate 95. The original toll for the bridge was set at $2.25 per trip; however, RIDOT is studying the cost-benefit ratio of doubling the rate to $4.50. RIDOT representatives requesting comment on the proposed increase claim the increase is really no increase at all; it is simply an effort to maintain the revenue forecast from the 14 gantries included in the original tolling proposal.
Currently, Rhode Island has constructed toll gantries at six of the originally planned locations; however, as the program has moved forward, two locations have been temporarily or permanently delayed. Rather than adjusting anticipated total revenue based on 12 locations, Gov. Gina Raimondo has instead directed RIDOT officials to study and request rate hikes at specific bridges. The toll hikes will allow Rhode Island to collect the same $45 million forecast from the 14 original gantries. This new twist on a toll program already challenged as unconstitutional by the American Trucking Associations, and one which an appellate court has ruled Rhode Island must face in a lawsuit, is leading the trucking industry and toll opposition to question RIDOT’s language in press releases and discussions on the issue.
Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said, “This should serve to reinforce concerns over the unbridled power and discretion given to RIDOT and further feeds the suspicion and skepticism of Rhode Island’s business owners about the end game of this scheme.”
Maxwell’s comments come on the heels of an already approved increased toll rate at another location in Providence. The Route 6 bridge over the Woonasquatucket River was increased from $2.00 to $5.00 last fall.
Maxwell also expressed concern about changing the still new tolls program when original approval was based on environmental impact studies. “From a legal standpoint,” he said, “these ‘on the fly’ changes would seem to undermine and violate the purpose and extent of the environmental impact assessments.”
Other opponents to the Oxford Street bridge toll increase note that the bridge does not fall into the criteria RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient, meaning revenue from the toll would be used at other locations, a provision not included in the tolling plan.
From RIDOT’s perspective, not only is the proposed toll rate increase not really an increase, it is also going to save the state money. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said that the infrastructure costs of eliminating two planned toll locations will result in lower implementation costs.
“Our thinking is we’ll forgo building [a gantry] at the viaduct in Providence, or at least while the viaduct is being built,” Alviti said on WPRO radio. “We’ll assign the toll amount we were going to collect there to the next nearest location, which is Oxford Street.”
Chris Maxwell believes he has a full understanding of RIDOT’s intent. “[They] deliberately chose the most densely traveled tool location in the who scheme to further their insatiable appetite to soak businesses, consumers, and taxpayers,” he said in an interview with Transport Topics.
RIDOT is justifying its proposed action based on the original toll proposal’s expectation of generating $45 million in revenue. In any event, Peter Alviti says, truckers traveling I-95 through Rhode Island will still be paying $20.00 per trip.
When is an increase not an increase? It depends on what your definition of increase is. For those wanting to comment, emails can be sent to Dot.BridgeRepairTolls@dot.ri.gov or comments can be submitted in writing to Jay McGinn, P.E., Project Manager II RIDOT, 2 Capitol Hill, Providence RI 02903. Following cutoff date for comments on March 1, the new rate will be implemented on March 5.

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