August 24, 2017 12:30 PM, EDT

R.I. Trucking Issues 'Call to Arms' Over Route Restrictions

State Officials Seek to Shield Local Roads From Heavy Vehicle Traffic as RITA Calls Plan 'Reckless'
Tolls in Rhode IslandHummelReport via YouTube

The Rhode Island State Traffic Commission’s recent denial of a request to restrict tractor-trailers from certain secondary roads will galvanize companies to stand up against such regulations during the commission’s next hearing, said Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.

On Aug. 17, the traffic commission cast a 3-2 vote striking down the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s plan to restrict tractor-trailers from using secondary roads. However, the commission will convene a hearing to reconsider the matter in early September.

Maxwell said he is rallying industry representatives to defend their case at the meeting.

“We’ve been the lead opposition. We intend on being there in full force. We have a call to arms to all businesses and trucking companies that should be at that hearing,” Maxwell said. “Blocking trucking access to secondary roads is about as reckless a policy as any state could attempt to implement.”

RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said the department filed a request with the traffic commission to protect neighborhoods and local roads from vehicles that can deteriorate them. He said the request grew from RIDOT’s “asset management approach” to restoring infrastructure.

“This ensures safety for both people and roads,” St. Martin said. “It relieves congestion and it keeps our assets viable until they can be repaired or rehabilitated.”

We have a call to arms to all businesses and trucking companies that should be at that hearing.

RITA President Chris Maxwell

According to RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, the request enforces the truck-tolling systems called for last year by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. The tolling gantries will be activated in December.

Raimondo introduced RhodeWorks, legislation that includes a trucks-only tolling system projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as bridge replacements and road improvements. According to RIDOT, about 22% of the 1,162 bridges in Rhode Island are structurally deficient.

“Large commercial vehicles on local roads going through small cities and towns is not something we want. Not only does it create congestion and provide a safety problem, but it also damages the lesser capable roads and bridges that are along those secondary roads,” Alviti said in an interview with WPRO radio Aug. 17. “It’s not just to beat the tolls.”

However, Maxwell expressed skepticism about these reasons, stating that the route restrictions are nothing more than an attempt to force trucks to go through the tolls. He acknowledged that there probably will be a “degree of off-road diversion” surrounding the 14 toll gantries.

Maxwell said he has reached out to association members and the business community as a whole to stand up against this request. He said that tolling, coupled with route restrictions, is cause for the trucking industry to be severely concerned.

Although Maxwell called truck tolling an “egregious” offense, he said his first reaction after the traffic commission’s vote was shock, rather than relief.

“I was shocked because anything having to do with RhodeWorks has been preordained to pass.”