Mattiello: Tolls aren’t likely to get into state budget

Speaker says Raimondo has failed to provide enough information, protect RI businesses

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is putting the brakes on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to toll commercial trucks.

Larry Berman, a spokesman for Mattiello, said Thursday afternoon the current version of the governor’s high-profile proposal won’t be in the state budget – which is expected to emerge next week – due to a lack of information and concerns about how local companies will be affected.

“I applaud the governor for her proposal to fix our state’s roads and bridges,” Mattiello said in a statement. “However, I am not ready to take action on the tolls at this point. I have numerous questions that need to be answered, including addressing the impact on Rhode Island’s businesses.”

Mattiello’s comments mark a dramatic reversal from just over a week ago, when the speaker stood beside the governor at the announcement of her $4.8-billion, 10-year “RhodeWorks” infrastructure spending plan. The plan envisions using toll revenue to cover $700 million worth of bridge repairs over the next decade.

Marie Aberger, a spokeswoman for Raimondo, wouldn’t respond directly to Mattiello’s comments, but said in an email: “Rhode Island ranks 50th out of 50 states in overall bridge condition and has lost 1,200 jobs in the construction sector over the past three months. Our priority remains putting people back to work repairing our roads and bridges and improving the economy.”

The speaker’s comments Thursday would appear to leave the door open to some version of the toll proposal passing during this legislative session, even if it’s not included in the state budget, though there’s no guarantee that will happen, either.

The toll proposal has been on shaky ground almost since the day it was announced, with an outraged trucking industry raising questions about the details and arguing the projected cost would be exorbitantly high compared with other states. Raimondo already backed off part of the proposal on Tuesday by scaling back the number of truck classes that would have to pay the toll.

Separately on Thursday, the Senate Fiscal Office released an analysis of the toll proposal that suggested the cost could be as much as $3.27 per mile for an 11-mile trip from I-95 to I-195 depending on the rates set by the R.I. Department of Transportation. The office included this chart to illustrate some potential options:

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Raimondo’s office has said the median toll – or “user fee,” as the administration calls it – would be about $6 per tolling location, and the maximum amount it would cost to cross the state would be about $40 to $50. Tolls would be placed on 17 to 22 bridges across the state, with routes 95, 195, 295, 146, 6 and 10 as likely options.

Bill Fischer, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Trucking Association, declined to respond to Mattiello’s comments Thursday.

Raimondo has defended the tolling proposal as fair because Rhode Island is one of only two states between Maine and Maryland that doesn’t toll commercial trucks, and because studies show large trucks cause much of the damage that has left Rhode Island’s roads and bridges among the most deteriorated in the country.

Legislative leaders’ revised final version of the state budget is currently expected to be unveiled Tuesday, Berman said. The one-year plan will cover the new 12-month fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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