Contrary to what legislators and the public were told, Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, claims that plans for implementing truck tolls calls for 33 gantries in the state, with as many as nine gantries on the 6-10 interchange alone.
The number and location of the gantries have been an issue since truck tolls were introduced as part of the RhodeWorks program to spend $543 million over 15 years to repair roads and bridges. The administration has been using the figure of 14 gantries.
In a newsletter sent this week to association members, Maxwell writes: “After reviewing the list and conferring with ATA [American Trucking Association] highway policy experts on the information provided, it appears that the number of gantries that will be constructed around the state is 33. That is, while the governor and RIDOT have publicly advertised 14 locations, the true measure of the program is the number of times a truck can register a toll, which appears to be far greater than that number.” The newsletter also lists locations for the gantries.
Meanwhile, neither the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) nor the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) would confirm or deny a recent statement by Gov. Gina Raimondo that the agencies are close to reaching a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, on truck tolls. Spokespeople for both the state and federal departments did not provide details in calls and emails inquiring about the number of gantries and the MOU.
“We’re reviewing the MOU, which has the locations,” FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer wrote in an email Wednesday.
In response to questions on the number of gantries, RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said, “RIDOT has identified 14 preliminary tolling locations. However, it is important to note the difference between tolling locations and number of gantries. Some of these locations may require more than one physical gantry – for example, if the road is too wide for a single gantry, one might be needed in each direction. The final number of gantries will be determined as we go through the procurement process.”
St. Martin said the state is in discussions with the FHWA regarding the MOU.
“There’s a lack of truth and transparency,” Maxwell said of the truck-toll plan, which has slipped from the headlines since the governor and legislative leaders pushed the package through the General Assembly early in the session.
But Maxwell said people haven’t forgotten. He said the association supports candidates opposed truck tolls, although at this point he said the association has not made any campaign contributions. He believes many of those who voted for the legislation have second thoughts about the plan and would change their votes if given the opportunity.
“I question whether they have the will to see this through,” he said.
Maxwell maintains that the tolls will drive business out of the state; that projections of generating $45 million annually in revenues are highly exaggerated, thereby crippling efforts to rebuild state bridges; and that the cost of tolls will be passed on to the public in higher prices. He also reasons that once the gantries are in place and toll revenues fail to hit projections, there will be a move to extend the tolls to smaller trucks. The legislation prohibits tolls of passenger vehicles.
“Ultimately Rhode Island will become a no-fly zone,” he said of truck diversion, “and the rates [tolls] will increase and increase.”
Maxwell said he has talked with FHWA representatives and has urged that they conduct a comprehensive study of the state plan and its impacts. He said he has been assured that the state will be held to compliance with federal law.
As for specifics, Maxwell said he has heard the state could be soliciting bids for the construction of gantries early next spring.
Although a cap of $40 per day and maximum of $20 for a truck crossing the state were talked about, Maxwell said, “We’re not sure on the rates.”
Lawmakers sought to respond to truckers’ concerns, approving legislation by lowering fees for truck registration and establishing the Rhode Island Clean Diesel Fund aimed at reducing the cost of implementing technologies to lower emissions from heavy-duty diesel truck engines. The measure would provide grants so local truck companies could make changes.
Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, pointed out that the budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor “contained significant reductions in the commercial truck registration fees.”
He said depending on the weight of large trucks, registration costs have been reduced, effective next year, by 26 percent to as much as 50 percent.
“This is estimated to save trucking companies a total of $4.2 million beginning next July,” he said.
In his newsletter, Maxwell reports he met with Carlos Machado of the FHWA on June 29 and was informed that an environmental assessment of each gantry location “must take place.”
He writes: “Machado disclosed that his agency and RIDOT are in the process of deciding how to best to proceed with this process. FHWA will either assess each site on an individual basis – a process which would allow certain projects to proceed within the RhodeWorks program – or conduct a ‘blanket inspection’ of the whole program which would result in all locations having to be approved before the program moves forward. RIDOT appears to favor the former due to the fact that it would expedite tolling.”
Machado was reached by phone, but referred all questions to FHWA information offices.
Maxwell listed the following gantry locations in his newsletter:
Route 95: Mechanic Street/Wood River, Teft Hill, Route 3, Centerville Road, Toll Gate Road, Oxford Street, Rte. 10, AMTRAK, P & W RR, Woon., River Exchange St., Promenade St., East Street and Roosevelt Avenue
Route 295: Water Supply Aqueduct, Plainfield Pike, abandoned ramp, US Route 6, Hartford Pike, Greenfield Avenue, Scott Roads and Leigh Road
Route 195: Seekonk River, Gano Street., Water Street
Route 146: George Washington Hwy. and Farnum Pike
Route 6: Woonasquatucket River, Plainfield St., Westminster St., Troy St., AMTRAK, P & W RR, Broadway, US. Rte 6, AMTRAK, P&W RR, Harris Ave., AMTRAK, P&W RR, Hartford Avenue
Westminster Street: Olneyville Expressway on Lane H and Olneyville Expressway
Atwells Avenue: Rte. 6, AMTRAK, P&W RR
Dean Street: Rte. 6, Harris Ave., AMTRAK P&W RR
The newsletter also identifies a new ramp structure, but doesn’t give it a location.