The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has received federal approval to advance construction on 10 more truck-tolling gantries.
RIDOT announced Dec. 20 that the Federal Highway Administration has granted approval for the state to proceed with construction on another series of tolling gantries. The first two (of an eventual 13) truck-tolling gantries in Rhode Island have been operational since June 11.
After reviewing RIDOT’s environmental assessment, FHWA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, clearing the way for construction.
“This Finding of No Significant Impact is based on the attached environmental assessment, which has been independently evaluated by the FHWA and determined to adequately and accurately discuss the need, environmental issues and impacts of the proposed project,” FHWA stated in its letter to RIDOT.
According to RIDOT, the next tolling gantry is expected to be completed and operational by May. The remaining tolling locations will be activated “in quick succession” every one or two months. The 10 gantries are expected to be completed by May 2020.
The state’s two functional truck tolls preside over Interstate 95 and are located in Hopkinton and Exeter, both of which toe the state’s border with Connecticut. The Hopkinton toll is $3.25, and the Exeter toll is $3.50. The tolls are limited to one charge per facility, per day in each direction and do not exceed $40 per day.
(Rhode Island Department of Transportation)
The remaining tolls will be collected over major routes, including Interstates 95, 195, 295, U.S. Route 6 and State Route 146.
RIDOT released data Sept. 13 covering tolling transactions that occurred from July 11 to Aug. 10. The diversion rates are lower than expected and revenue generated from the tolls is higher than initially projected. Financial studies estimated that the two tolls would bring in about $598,000 a month. The second month of tolling yielded more than $664,000. Not only is this figure more than projected, but it also marks an increase from the first month of tolling, which saw more than $625,000 in revenue.
Members of the trucking community have repeatedly decried the truck-only tolls. American Trucking Associations, Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight filed a lawsuit July 10 contesting the constitutionality of the tolling program. The lawsuit maintains that truck tolls discriminate against interstate commerce.
“We maintain that this discriminatory tolling scheme is unconstitutional, which is why we filed suit and are eager for our day in court,” ATA spokesman Jeremy Kirkpatrick said. “Taxpayers can judge for themselves the wisdom of the state’s decision to build 10 more gantries while the legality of this program remains in question and under review.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo celebrates her re-election Nov. 6 in Providence, R.I. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)
RIDOT Director Peter Alviti filed a motion Aug. 24 to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion, filed in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, states that the plaintiffs are asking the court “to do something that is not only extraordinary but something that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to do.”
The truck tolls are a component of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program to finance infrastructure projects. According to RIDOT, the completed 13-point tolling system will bring in $45 million annually, some $4 million of which will go toward operation and maintenance costs. The remaining $41 million will be used for bridge rehabilitation projects. About 22% of the 1,162 bridges in the state are structurally deficient, according to RIDOT.
Raimondo, a Democrat, was re-elected to gubernatorial office with 52% of the vote Nov. 6.
Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell said the trucking industry will continue to press against the truck-tolling system in 2019.
“Once again, Rhode Island is boldly advancing its truck-tolling network while, at the very same time, a very compelling argument against its constitutionality awaits a federal court decision,” Maxwell said. “They can continue to build gantries and to pound their chest about the financial successes of the program which, to date, includes almost $4 million collected in tolls thus far. In the end, their actions and their narrative have no bearing on the outcome of this case, but presume to speak above the courts.”