Whether the courts agree with the state that it has the right to independently toll trucks or not, Christopher Maxwell of the Rhode Island Truckers Association says Rhode Island will come out the loser.
Should the courts agree that trucks should pay for use of the roads and not automobiles, as lawmakers have sought to protect legislatively, Maxwell questions if the daily cap of $40 regardless of the miles driven will stand up.
“Even if we lose and truck-only stands, be rest-assured that caps will be eliminated and the protections and certainty of $40 max per day will go away. Business owners and consumers beware! Like legislation prohibiting tolls on cars, the caps were promised to placate local business owners from egregious daily charges, but can and will go away with a legal decision or recision of a law,” Maxwell writes in an email.
Maxwell and the state departments of Transportation and Revenue were contacted last week for an update on the erection of gantries and revenues collected since the first gantry became operational in July 2018.
Gantries are in the process of being installed on Interstate 95 in Warwick near the Centerville Road overpass and the Centerville northbound on-ramp.
“The department has been closely monitoring traffic at new gantries for diversion and there has been none. We expect the same will occur at this gantry. Also, the Department is seeing higher than expected revenues at the five gantries that have gone live to date,” RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin wrote in an email.
Toll revenue is projected to pay about 10 percent of the $5 billion RhodeWorks program, which is designed to have Rhode Island meet the National Bridge Standard of 10 percent of bridges as deficient by 2025. When the state program started three years ago, the deficiency rate was 25 percent. That has been reduced to 22 percent, St. Martin said.
Under the program, the state has identified 150 bridges needing to be rebuilt and another 500 requiring rehabilitation to ensure they don’t become deficient.
Maxwell sees the state “rushing” to get up the gantries up before the truckers’ association appeals work their way through the courts. The latest development came Dec. 5 when the First Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the American Truckers Association and remanded jurisdiction back to federal court.
As Maxwell explains, RIDOT sought to protect truck tolls under the Tax Injunction Act, which would have prevented federal intervention under interstate commerce and would have placed the case in the state courts.
“The First Circuit unanimously felt differently – spoiling RI’s legal Hail Mary,” Maxwell wrote Friday. The state was granted until Jan. 2 to decide whether it would like to have the case reheard by the First Circuit.
Regardless, Maxwell sees the court play as a means of buying time to erect at least half of the planned 12 state gantries before winter weather sets in and closes further construction.
“For a state so confident in the legality and constitutionality of truck-only tolls, they seem pretty hell-bent on avoiding the federal courts,” Maxwell said.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General offered no comment on the court action, saying the matter is in litigation.
In response to an inquiry, RIDOT released the following statement: “This latest ruling determines only the venue – that federal court is the appropriate venue for the trial. We remain highly confident that the state will prevail in the lawsuit brought by the American Trucking Association.
With completion of the Interstate 295/Scott Road gantry and that at Interstate 95 and Route 117 in Warwick, Maxwell said half of the gantry system would be completed.
As of the end of October, the gantries had collected a total of $10 million in tolls since the first one became operational in July 2018.
Kapsch Traffic Com IVHS won the contract to design, install, operate and service the system for 10 years for $68.9 million.
Should the truckers association win in the courts, Maxwell notes the state will have spent millions on the gantries. At question is whether the state would be to refund tolls already collected.
“It’s a dangerous game our state is playing,” Maxwell said.