Road to truck tolls goes through R.I.

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Bill Cum­mings

Rhode Is­land’s early suc­cess with elec­tronic truck tolls on sev­eral high­ways may of­fer a road map for Gover­nor-elect Ned La­m­ont’s plan to gen­er­ate rev­enue in Con­necti­cut.

Since two toll gantries were in­stalled over a sec­tion of In­ter­state 95 in June, Rhode Is­land has ex­ceeded rev­enue pro­jec- tions, bring­ing in $1.9 mil­lion in the first quar­ter from big rigs — al­most $87,000 more than ex­pected.

The state plans to even­tu­ally place 12 over­head toll gantries on six high­way cor­ri­dors to gen­er­ate $450 mil­lion over 10 years. The gantries use over­head cam­eras to read li­cense plates and send bills to the reg­is­tered owner.

Demo­cratic lead­ers who hold a ma­jor­ity in the Con­necti­cut House and Se­nate said they are open to La­m­ont’s cam­paign pledge to in­stall truck tolls on the state’s high­ways and ma­jor routes.

The new Demo­cratic gover­nor pre­dicted truck tolls could gen­er­ate a $100 mil­lion a year for road, rail and bridge re­pairs.

“I’m sure he will in­tro­duce (truck tolls) and I will sup­port that,” said Se­nate Pres­i­dent Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “If the gover­nor wants to be­gin with that as an in­cre­men­tal step, I would sup­port that.”

A po­ten­tial ob­sta­cle is on­go­ing court chal­lenges.

The Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion has sued Rhode Is­land, ar­gu­ing that truck tolls vi­o­late the in­ter­state com­merce clause of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

“Truck tolls are dis­crim­i­na­tory,” said Joe Scul­ley, pres­i­dent of the Mo­tor Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­necti­cut, which rep­re­sents more than 1,400 truck­ing com­pa­nies.

Right now, two sep­a­rate truck tolls are on I-95 be­tween the Con­necti­cut/Rhode Is­land bor­der and War­wick, R.I. One toll

is $3.25, and the other is $3.50.

Big­ger plan

The rev­enue Rhode Is­land is col­lect­ing from truck tolls is just the begin­ning of a long range plan to fund bridge re­pairs and other work. Over the next decade, the state plans to spend $5 bil­lion to fix an ag­ing transportation sys­tem.

“Each (toll) lo­ca­tion is as­so­ci­ated with a bridge or bridge group,” ac­cord­ing to the Rhode Is­land Depart­ment of Transportation. “The Rhode Is­land DOT will re­pair or re­place bridges with this rev­enue.”

The ra­tio­nale be­hind truck fees is to “toll the ve­hi­cles that caused the dam­age that needs to be re­paired,” the DOT said.

Rhode Is­land ex­pected 568,876 trans­ac­tions, or toll charges, for the ini­tial two tolling lo­ca­tions dur­ing the first quar­ter of oper­a­tion. The state recorded 36,432 more trans­ac­tions than ex­pected.

A main ar­gu­ment against tolls in Con­necti­cut — aside from op­pos­ing the levy as an­other tax — is con­cern that cars or trucks would find ways around the toll gantries and cre­ate con­ges­tion on lo­cal roads.

Rhode Is­land of­fi­cials say they are not see­ing

that trend.

The state’s DOT ex­pected that some 300 trucks on av­er­age would di­vert onto Rt. 3 to avoid tolls in Washington County, but so far only an av­er­age of four trucks dur­ing the pe­riod ex­am­ined took a dif­fer­ent route, the state DOT said.

‘Lot of dam­age’

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity last ses­sion sup­ported tolls for ev­ery­one driv­ing on state high­ways and four-lane state routes, which of­fi­cials be­lieve could gen­er­ate as much as $1 bil­lion a year.

The ef­fort stalled in the House and there was no chance of over­com­ing stead­fast Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion in the Se­nate, which was tied be­tween the two par­ties.

But the po­lit­i­cal land­scape changed last week as Democrats sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded their ma­jor­ity in the House and re­took the state Se­nate by a com­fort­able mar­gin.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, La­m­ont said trucks cause the most dam­age to Con­necti­cut’s high­ways and ma­jor roads and should be slapped with ex­tra fees to re­pair that dam­age.

“That starts with elec­tronic tolling, when some of our big­gest trucks, coming in from out-of-state, us­ing our roads, tax-free, cre­ate tons of main­te­nance is­sues, and we’ll see where

it goes from there,” La­m­ont said.

Lacey Rose, La­m­ont’s spokes­woman, said the gover­nor-elect re­mains com­mit­ted to truck tolls.

“Gover­nor-elect La­m­ont has a plan for elec­tronic tolling of heavy trucks, as he pro­posed dur­ing his cam­paign,” Rose said.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Matt Rit­ter, D-Hart­ford, said he ex­pects truck tolls will come be­fore law­mak­ers next year.

“The gover­nor-elect thought out the idea of truck tolls,” Rit­ter said. “That seemed to have wide­spread sup­port. (Trucks) do a lot of dam­age to the roads, no doubt about that.”

Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, is al­ready crit­i­ciz­ing La­m­ont’s truck toll pro­posal, say­ing the num­bers don’t add up.

“Where did the $100 mil­lion fig­ure come from?” Fasano said a state­ment.

“In Rhode Is­land, they are an­tic­i­pat­ing net rev­enue of $121.8 mil­lion, but that is over a 5-year pe­riod,” Fasano said. “That re­sults in $24.36 mil­lion in rev­enue a year. La­m­ont’s pie-in-the-sky, $100 mil­lion num­ber is pure fic­tion.”

It’s not clear how far law­mak­ers will go — stop at truck tolls or toll all ve­hi­cles — and whether La­m­ont is will­ing to ex­pand his mod­est pro­posal.

House Speaker Joe Ar- es­i­mow­icz, D-Ber­lin, said he re­grets the Leg­is­la­ture’s fail­ure last ses­sion to set the state on a path to­ward tolls for all driv­ers.

“The real is­sue is how are we go­ing to come up with the money to fix our fail­ing in­fra­struc­ture,” Ares­i­mow­icz said dur­ing a me­dia avail­abil­ity last week.

“A re­port that came out said the rat­ing of our bridges and roads is bad,” Ares­i­mow­icz noted. “That will be in the dis­cus­sion.”

Court chal­lenge

Scul­ley said truck tolls would be chal­lenged in court if au­tho­rized in Con­necti­cut.

“They say truck­ers tear up the roads, high­ways and bridges but it’s the chem­i­cals they ap­ply dur­ing the win­ter that tears up the roads,” Scul­ley said. “I think a num­ber of groups would sue if we do some­thing that is near Rhode Is­land.”

Tolls are sim­ply not fair be­cause they tar­get one seg­ment of the mo­tor­ing pub­lic, Scul­ley said.

“You are say­ing that five per­cent of the peo­ple who use the road will pay 100 per­cent of the cost,” Scul­ley said. “We now pay six times our fair share in taxes.”

Truck­ers pay an es­ti­mated $17,000 a year per big rig in fed­eral and state taxes, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try es­ti­mates.

The Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s law­suit against Rhode Is­land ar­gues that truck tolls dis­crim­i­nate against out-of­s­tate truck­ers and asks a judge to block Rhode Is­land from op­er­at­ing the tolls.

Elise Amendola / As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

In this 2016 photo, cars pass un­der toll-sen­sor gantries hang­ing over the Mas­sachusetts Turn­pike in New­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.