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RI starts truck-only tolls: Groups vow to fight

After years of debate over a heavy truck-only toll plan to help replace and rebuild state infrastructure, Rhode Island began charging tractor-trailers to drive on Interstate 95 on Monday.

After two years of planning and development, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) activated the first two truck tolls early Monday morning on the southern stretch of I-95 between exits 2 and 5. The Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction and Maintenance Fund Act, better known as "RhodeWorks," authorizes RIDOT to toll large commercial trucks to fund, in part, the replacement or reconstruction of bridges throughout the state.

Since the truck-only tolling was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo in February 2016, trucking groups have spoken out against the plan, calling it “discriminatory” and “unjust.” This week the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) vowed to continue the fight against the RhodeWorks plan.

“By pressing ahead with her ill-conceived RhodeWorks scheme, Gov. Raimondo is violating the Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce,” said ATA president and CEO Chris Spear. “She and her administration were warned of this repeatedly by the trucking industry, and we will continue to fight these unjust tolls by any means available.”

According to ATA, trucks make up just over 2% of the traffic on the highways being tolled under Rhode Island’s plan. “To place 100% of the burden for maintaining the state’s roads and bridges on those trucks will hurt Rhode Islanders and the entire New England region,” ATA stated.

“By imposing these tolls, Gov. Raimondo and her profiteering allies in Providence are needlessly inflicting economic pain – 94% of the costs of these tolls will ultimately be borne by Rhode Island businesses – and worsening our state’s congestion problems as study after study has shown that when new tolls are imposed, traffic simply diverts away from them – thus taking traffic off of the interstates and putting it on main street,” said RITA president Chris Maxwell.

RhodeWorks’ truck-only toll plan applies to Class 6 and higher commercial trucks and largely out-of-state ones at that. According to the RhodeWorks proposal, it would cost roughly $20 in tolls for tractor-trailer to cross the state one-way using Interstate 95 and other interstate offshoots as those vehicles cross 14 proposed electronic toll markers, each costing about $3. The maximum any trucker would pay in one day is $40, according to the plan.

RIDOT noted the remaining tolling locations will come on line over the next 18 months, and that revenue will be collected from tractor-trailers only.

Charles St. Martin, RIDOT chief of public affairs, said so far the new tolling systems are working well.

“RIDOT is implementing tractor-trailer only tolling because trucks cause the greatest amount of damage to our roads and bridges and yet pay a disproportionately small share for the upkeep and repair of those roads,” he said. “Other vehicle owners are shouldering these costs.”

“Tolling revenue will provide a reliable, dedicated source of funding to repair our crumbing bridges for the benefit of all,” St. Martin added.

However, Spear cites the tolls as inefficient and unsafe, "putting needless choke points on our highways and pushing traffic off of larger, safer highways and on to smaller arterials."

“Trucking is willing to pay our fair share – to pay more than we do now – for good roads and bridges," Spear stressed. "What we are not willing to do is foot the bill alone for an ill-conceived and illegal highway funding program that ultimately will become an unwatched slush fund for the governor’s office.”

“We warned Gov. Raimondo about heading down this road and it is unfortunate that she has chosen to attack our industry in this way,” he added. “We continue to explore all avenues – including the courts – to get this decision reversed and she and her administration should expect us to continue to fight for fair and equitable highway funding in Rhode Island.”

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