September 17, 2018 3:45 PM, EDT

Second Month of R.I. Truck Tolls Exceeds Expectations

Truck going through tollboothHummelReport via YouTube

Data from the second month of Rhode Island’s truck-tolling program indicates that the number of vehicles moving through the gantries is higher than projected, while the number of trucks diverting to alternate routes is far lower than expected.

The first two (of an eventual 13) truck-tolling gantries in Rhode Island have been operational since June 11.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation released data Sept. 13 covering tolling transactions that occurred from July 11 to Aug. 10.

“The data included the number of transactions and tolls assessed from gantry locations [No.] 1 and 2,” RIDOT said. “RIDOT released the data to maintain transparency about the program and to report on the stability of the system.”

RhodeWorks sign

The truck tolls are a component of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program. (WPRI12 via YouTube)

The state’s two truck tolls are 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.

Before the tolls took effect, RIDOT conducted a traffic study and estimated that approximately 7,300 trucks would pass through the two gantries on weekdays and approximately 2,200 would pass through on weekends. But RIDOT’s latest data showed 200,746 trucks moved through the gantries during the second month of tolling.

Louis Berger, a consulting firm that specializes in infrastructure, conducted studies last year and estimated that 300 trucks would divert to State Route 3 in order to avoid the tolls. Route 3 snakes alongside I-95 for about 19 miles.

The data indicates the number of trucks that bailed to dodge the gantries is actually much lower. According to RIDOT, the counts show an average diversion rate of four trucks per day.

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 over $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.

“Diversion, truck counts and toll revenue have absolutely nothing to do with the constitutionality of truck-only tolls,” Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell told Transport Topics. “Enjoy it while it lasts!”

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.

Gina Raimondo

Raimondo celebrates the night of her primary victory. (Elise Amendola/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.”

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.

“Even if Rhode Island’s toll scheme appears more effective at discriminating against trucks than expected, it doesn’t mean it’s not still discriminatory,” an ATA spokesman said. “We are eager to have our day in court and to see these unconstitutional barriers to commerce taken down so Rhode Island can get serious about infrastructure funding through user fees that fairly distribute the burden among all who benefit from the state’s highways.”

The truck tolls are a component of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program to finance infrastructure projects. Raimondo won the Democratic primary election on Sept. 12. She will face Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the state’s general election Nov. 6.