Rhode Island truckers demand access to documents in trucks-only toll plan

Updated Jan 13, 2016
Tale of the Tolls

The Rhode Island Trucking Association has made a public records request on a truck-only toll plan to fund repair of the island’s deteriorated infrastructure.

Lawmakers ended session June 25 without passing RhodeWorks, Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to toll about two dozen bridges to back $600 million in bond revenue. The Democrat governor’s 10-year, $1.1 billion improvement plan would toll Class 6 trucks and higher before it was amended to affect only Class 8 trucks, once per location per day.

Legislators are expected to revisit the issue in January when the new session begins.

RITA President Christopher Maxwell said he made the Nov. 30 request after state officials ignored previous inquires. He said Raimondo is asking assembly members to make a $1 billion decision without disclosing how many tolling locations would be in their districts.

“Stating that the federal highway administration has to approve toll locations so they cannot be disclosed yet is not a plausible excuse for withholding this information,” Maxwell said. “It is clear the administration knows where they intend to place the tolling gantries, otherwise how could they attempt to project revenue to support the bond payment?”

The administration has 10 business days to honor RITA’s request or provide written request on why access to records was denied, but have an additional 20 days to respond if there is “good cause” for delay.

The association asked for toll gantry locations listed in RhodeWorks, in a state study on RhodeWorks economic impact, as well as the methodology and data in a related traffic count study. RITA also requested all correspondence between RIDOT and the Federal Highway Administration on the federal tolling exemption.

Last legislative session, the House passed a budget without RhodeWorks, while the Senate overwhelmingly approved a truck toll bill that dropped fees from $6 to $3.50. Maxwell said the Senate’s plan, which added rebates and tax credits for state businesses, could violate interstate commerce laws.

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RITA unveiled a RhodeWorks alternative Oct. 28 that excludes tolling, but would increase diesel tax and truck registration fees.

It would create more than $220 million over four years, which is the amount RhodeWorks would allocate to repair 453 bridges outside of the 6/10 connector. After the fourth year, RITA’s plan will produce annual revenue of $25.9 million. The state transportation department could bond this revenue for the 6/10 connector or the entire package could be bonded to include all RhodeWorks projects listed.

The association’s proposal could be implemented immediately, while Raimondo’s plan would require waiting until 2018 to spend $43 million on tolling gantries.

The RITA plan and RhodeWorks both call for refinancing garvee bonds, which the association says will produce $121 million in first four years. Federal law authorized these bonds to allow state and local agencies to issue debt for transportation projects, using future federal highway funds to repay costs associated with the issuance of the debt.

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