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RI: Bad tolling plan under wraps

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June 4, 2015 by Minuteman Trucks

This article appeared in the Providence Journal | June 04, 2015
By Christopher Maxwell

On behalf of the Rhode Island Trucking Association and our 500 members and 10,000 employees, I am compelled to express grave reservations about Gov. Gina Raimondo’s commercial truck tolling plan and its implications for Rhode Island’s small businesses and consumers. Her recently announced plan states that revenue projections will support a $700 million bond that does not require taxpayer approval, but she has not disclosed specific tolling locations or tolling amounts.

It is difficult to imagine, given the thorough and deliberative manner in which Governor Raimondo approached pension reform, that she would not know the specific toll locations or the amounts of each toll at each site. What she has disclosed is that the total number of tolling locations would range from 17 to 22 sites. To be clear, the governor is not talking about putting a tolling station on the Sakonnet Bridge, or at the state border like New Hampshire; she’s talking about tolling common highway overpasses, and many of them. For Rhode Island companies, just one truck traveling a regular route where they incur five tolls heading south would have five more on their return trip north. That’s 10 tolls a day and 50 per week. If each toll were $5, that company would expend $250 per week for one vehicle.

If the governor’s stated revenue projections do not support the $700 million bond, it is the taxpayers who will be obligated to support the shortfall. How is it possible to forecast revenue projections without knowing the amount of the toll per site or the number of sites? It simply isn’t plausible. What is abundantly clear is that the governor and the administration have been working on this plan for months, in a manner that was not transparent and that lacked input from affected constituencies.

Since the governor’s announcement, there has been a steady stream of misinformation regarding the size of trucks that will be tolled by her plan. She and her staff had repeatedly said this will only affect “big rigs” or “18-wheelers,” yet her original plan included Class 6 — three-axle vehicles, which are among the most common delivery trucks used in Rhode Island. After much public outcry, the governor amended her plan to drop Class 6 trucks, yet she has not amended her revenue projections. The governor has also said this brings us in line with other states, yet all the states she cites toll cars as well.

How will the governor’s tolling plan impact the cost of consumer goods in Rhode Island? The answer is nobody knows, because the governor is attempting to ram her tolling plan through the General Assembly at the end of the session without proper time for debate.

Administration officials have shared with us that long haulers traveling through Rhode Island from the Connecticut border to the Massachusetts border would incur tolling fees of approximately $50. To put that number in perspective, you can travel the entire length of the Mass Pike for $16.25 (westbound is $21.50). We believe many out-of-state long-haul truckers will simply divert from Rhode Island, putting a greater burden on Rhode Island-based companies to meet the governor’s borrowing obligation.

What happens when there is a shortfall? Does the governor increase the tolling costs, increase the number of tolling stations or include cars? Nobody knows because the governor is attempting to ram her plan through the General Assembly without proper debate.

We understand the state’s funding predicament with regard to infrastructure maintenance and repairs, and are willing to pay our fair share to assist the governor. The Rhode Island trucking industry is not to blame for decades of neglected bridges and roadways, but we are being asked to shoulder 100 percent of the burden through a plan that lacks transparency and is not equitable.

It is time for the governor to disclose the specific tolling locations, her plans if revenue projections are not met and the specific tolling amount for each location, so that small businesses can attempt to prepare for this change. Let members of the General Assembly have the information they need to make an informed decision.

Christopher Maxwell is president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.

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