The first of more than a dozen new Rhode Island truck-toll gantries now stands above Route 95 South in Exeter.
Installed over the highway in the early morning hours Feb. 15, the steel tower may be familiar to some Rhode Islanders. Years ago, it held the electronic scanners of the short-lived toll over the Sakonnet River Bridge to Aquidneck Island.
When the state terminated that toll in 2012 because of political backlash, transportation officials stashed it away to use again if the opportunity to collect toll revenue ever came again.
Now it has in the form of the statewide tractor-trailer-only toll network approved by lawmakers in early 2016 and now being built starting near the southern state border in Washington County.
By the middle of next week, the DOT expects to have gantries in place at two of the 14 planned toll locations, after a series of overnight highway closures.
The two Sakonnet gantries will carry separate northbound and southbound sensors for a Route 95 toll three miles south of Exit 5.
The southbound gantry was erected around 1 a.m. Feb. 15 and the northbound gantry is slated to be installed starting late Feb. 15 into early Feb. 16 morning.
A similar program is on tap for next week, when the DOT plans to close the highway early Feb. 21, to erect the single gantry that will span the north and southbound Route 95 lanes near Exit 2 in Hopkinton.
Instead of closing the highway completely, DOT crews make a convoy that slows drivers to 25 mph several miles before the work site, creating a gap in traffic for workers to install the equipment.
When operational, the tolls will use sensors to charge tractor trailers driving beneath them without forcing the trucks to stop or slow down.
Once the equipment is in place, the DOT plans to test the system to make sure it is working properly before charging truckers. That testing is expected to take around a month.
Assuming a mid-March launch date, Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget includes $4 million from the tolls by the end of June.
After the Washington County tolls are in place, the DOT plans to begin an environmental assessment of the next 10 toll locations, which it hopes to have up and running by the middle of 2019.
The Rhode Island Trucking Association has called the truck tolls unconstitutional and said it will exhaust every legal avenue to stop them.
A court challenge is expected once toll collecting begins.
“Installation of the unconstitutional truck-only tolling gantries does nothing more than frame-up timing for the State’s costly legal battle that will be funded with taxpayer dollars,” Rhode Island Trucking Association President Christopher Maxwell wrote in an email. “The RI Trucking Association and the American Trucking Associations are supremely confident in our position that tolling only trucks is illegal. We look forward to a favorable legal decision that protects Rhode Island’s working families and small businesses.”