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March 30, 2016 3:00 PM, EDT

R.I. Legislators Question RhodeWorks' Constitutionality

Gov. Gina Raimondo, photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg News

Several Rhode Island Republican state legislators are trying to slow Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Works law from going into effect by questioning the constitutionality of its truck-only tolls and by requesting documentation of her Department of Transportation’s contract with outside counsel, which has cost taxpayers $450,000.

“The constitutional and legal issues [with RhodeWorks] could have very detrimental impacts on our consumers, our small business community and on our trucking industry,” said Rep. Patricia Morgan, the lead sponsor of H-7409, the resolution asking Raimondo to request an opinion from the state Supreme Court about the program’s constitutionality.

 

“We should get answers to them before we start spending their money," Morgan said. "The Republican Policy Group, of which I’m the chairman, went through the budget last summer and was able to detail sustainable sources of revenue — without touching social programs or vital services [and] no new taxes, fees, interest payments or tolls — that provided more money for bridge repair than the covernor’s plan does with the tolls.”

Raimondo has yet to respond to Morgan’s request while RIDOT has until mid-April to deliver the documents about the outside counsel’s opinion on RhodeWorks’ constitutionality to Rep. Daniel Reilly, who obtained a promise to do so from director Peter Alvitti during a televised hearing in February.

Marie Aberger, Raimondo’s spokeswoman, told Transport Topics, “[RhodeWorks] is strong, constitutional legislation that has gone through very thorough review and hours of debate over the past year.”

However, Reilly, an attorney by trade, outlined three major faults of RhodeWorks for Transport Topics:

“1) Its toll caps [$40 per day] mean local truckers [who jump on and off roads that will be tolled] are paying much less on a per-mile basis than out-of-state truckers [who just drive through Rhode Island]. It’s almost per se unconstitutional.

“2) RIDOT went out of its way to site the [14] toll gantry locations in a way that would disproportionately affect out-of-state truckers. They said this routinely in their testimony as a way to get us to support the bill.

3)  The greatest liability is Class 8 vehicles being tolled and all [others] not being tolled. RIDOT said this was designed not to hit the local construction companies and landscaping companies. That’s not the appropriate way to levy a toll because Class 6 and 7 vehicles [such as dump trucks] will do more damage per square inch to a bridge deck than fully loaded tractor trailers because they are displacing the weight over a shorter length.”

Morgan added a fourth issue, noting, “[RIDOT officials say] they’re going to use the state police to keep truckers from diverting from the tolls. That might be counter to federal regulations.”