PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov Gina Raimondo’s administration on Tuesday released a tentative list of where toll gantries would be placed should her RhodeWorks plan be enacted, after repeated requests that she do so from House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and the trucking industry.
Raimondo’s controversial plan, which aims to toll large commercial trucks in order to fund sweeping bridge repairs, died in the House during last year’s General Assembly session. But as lawmakers reconvened Tuesday for the new year, they quickly signaled they plan to act quickly on the bill now.
In a letter to legislators that included the preliminary list of 14 potential gantry locations, R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti emphasized that the list remains subject to change pending the details of the finalized legislation.
Alviti said large trucks are responsible for the “vast majority of vehicle-caused damage to roads and bridges,” and that those trucks pay “user fees” – his term for tolls – in nearly every other state in the Northeast. He said the Rhode Island State Police is prepared to “take action once the gantries are erected to prevent large commercial trucks from exiting the highways to avoid the user fees.”
Alviti stressed that user fees will not be collected from smaller trucks or passenger automobiles, noting that the version of the legislation passed last year explicitly barred tolling cars.
Speaking to reporters, Mattiello said he hopes a revised version of the RhodeWorks legislation could emerge in the next week or two. He also reiterated that he thinks tolling trucks is likely the best solution to the state’s infrastructure woes, but reiterated that he wants to reduce or eliminate the $600 million in borrowing proposed by Raimondo as part of the plan.
Senate leaders expressed similar optimism. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio both said they believed the toll legislation could be finished and enacted before the end of the month, a time frame Mattiello has also said is doable.
Ruggerio, who sponsored the tolling legislation last year, expressed reservations about eliminating borrowing from the plan altogether, which Mattiello has suggested. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea at this point in time,” he said, citing the ongoing deterioration of bridges.
As for timing, Ruggerio said: “Everyone knows the issue. We’ll vet the new proposal – if there is a new proposal – and see where we go. But I think that’s possible – to do it this month, in the month of January.”
But the toll plan still has many critics. Protesters speaking out against the proposal greeted lawmakers at the State House Tuesday night as they began the new session. State Rep. Patricia Morgan, a leading critic of the plan, insisted that legislative leaders should find money for bridge repairs in the current budget.
“We don’t have to borrow money, we don’t have to underwrite it, sell bonds, and we don’t have to put up tollbooths,” she said Tuesday. “So we can start sooner and we can get the bridges done in the same 10 years.”
Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, issued a statement soon after the list of gantry locations was released that renewed his criticism of RhodeWorks and the Raimondo administration.
“It should not have taken six months for this information to be released and it begs many more questions including the toll amounts at each gantry and whether or not these initial locations are situated on the most structurally deficient bridges,” Maxwell said.
“Additionally, we have always questioned the capabilities of the R.I. Department of Transportation to repair 453 bridges in a five-year period,” he continued. “Have any of these locations even received approvals to begin construction including environmental impact analysis?”
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.