Rhode Island transportation officials are delaying implementation of the initial phase of a trucks-only toll plan until February or March to shore up work on the plan’s environmental permitting, technical, engineering and financial requirements, a state Department of Transportation spokesman said.
Collections from tractor-trailer trucks originally were expected to begin at two tolling locations along Interstate 95 in Richmond and Exeter in the southwestern part of the state by year’s end, said RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin.
However the state agency attributes the delay to taking “a little more time getting ready,” St. Martin said.
Rhode Island Trucking Association, a staunch opponent of the plan since it was conceived, believes the delay was the result of a request from the Federal Highway Administration for more specifics on the environmental assessment. The request was made public Nov. 6.
The FHWA has approved the state’s environmental submission for the two toll locations, but will be monitoring a public comment period and public meeting Nov. 21 to weigh whether additional study is needed.
“Remember, this plan was introduced in 2015,” said Chris Maxwell, president of Rhode Island Trucking Association. “They had ambitions of having this thing up and running in late 2015 or early 2016. And now we’re looking at the earliest, spring of 2018.”
But St. Martin said the governor is more concerned about getting this right than rushing. “Where we stand now we’re going through this environmental assessment process, and assuming we move forward on that we’re looking at starting some of the construction in wintertime, and then testing activation sometime in the later winter,” St. Martin told Transport Topics.
Ultimately, the state DOT said, tolls will be collected along six major highway corridors at 12 locations in the state. Each location is associated with a bridge or bridge group and the tolling revenues will be used to repair or replace the bridge location with which it is associated, state officials said.
RIDOT plans to repair or replace 35 bridges with the truck-only toll revenue. Automobiles will not be charged tolls.
“The environmental assessment is now out,” Maxwell said. “We’re going to vet it. We feel that an environmental impact statement on the whole program cumulatively is far more appropriate than simple [environmental assessments] at different locations. There are some glaring issues that we will highlight.”
Maxwell said the state still needs to study diversion from the tolled highways by trucks trying to avoid paying the toll, and how it will affect local communities. For example, he said a truck making a delivery or pickup in Providence may avoid taking I-95 and instead take Interstate 395 in Connecticut and a two-lane road such as Route 6 to Providence.
That would create congestion, safety and road degradation issues, Maxwell said.
St. Martin said future environmental documents will be produced for other locations and that the state DOT has conducted a detailed traffic analysis that takes into account the impact statewide.
Maxwell claimed state DOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. is “clearly dismissive of our industry.”
“We haven’t gone away for three years,” Maxwell said. “We’re really just getting started with this process. He’s clearly underestimating his foe.”