Truckers’ study casts doubt on toll numbers

IHS suggests toll revenue liekly to fall short unless per-trip fee hiked to $40 to $50

(AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An outside study released Tuesday by the Rhode Island Trucking Association raised doubts about the accuracy of the forecasts Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is using to marshal support for her truck toll proposal.

The study by IHS Global Insight, a well-known economic analysis firm based in Massachusetts, warned that the approach taken in an earlier study by REMI – a competing firm hired by the governor’s office – “may lead to erroneous or suspect conclusions.” IHS went on to criticize REMI’s study of the governor’s proposal, which she calls RhodeWorks, as “sorely lacking in transparency.”

IHS strongly disputed assertions by the Raimondo administration and REMI that a toll of $20 to $25 per daily truck trip would be enough to generate about $60 million a year in revenue for the state, saying that “either the revenue estimate of $60 million will not be realized, or the toll rate needs to be significantly higher.”

IHS said its data suggests there are 1.2 million to 1.5 million annual truck trips in Rhode Island, not the 2.4 million to 3 million cited by REMI, which would mean only $24 million to $37.5 million in annual revenue for the state unless the per-trip toll was raised to $40 to $50.

“The higher tolls lead us to believe the potential for trucks to skirt Rhode Island via alternate routings is quite high, and will substantial[ly] reduce the state’s revenue under the study’s proposals,” IHS said, noting it costs a truck as little as $2.05 per trip to travel on the Mass Pike.

IHS also said the REMI study did not do enough to review non-toll alternatives for funding bridge repairs, and suggested any positive impacts on Rhode Island’s economy from the toll-funded bridge projects would be far less significant than REMI indicated.

The study was released as Raimondo and legislative leaders continue to negotiate behind the scenes to come up with a revised version of the truck toll proposal. A spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday the legislation is more likely to emerge next week than this week, though Mattiello has said he would like to wrap up the issue this month.

“This study proves what we have been saying all along,” Chris Maxwell, president of the trucking group, said in a statement. “The revenue projections built into the RhodeWorks plan are not accurate and will never be realized.”

One reason the accuracy of the toll forecasts is so important: Raimondo has proposed floating a $600-million bond to fund bridge repairs and paying it off using the toll revenue, so if the amount falls short, the state could have to tap other sources to make its bond payments.

“If the governor continues to pursue her plan she will only be proven wrong when it is too late,” Maxwell said. “Once the bonds are floated and the gantries are built we will all be on the hook – including small truck operators.”

Marie Aberger, a spokeswoman for Raimondo, dismissed the truckers’ latest salvo.

“The truckers have a vested interest in attacking RhodeWorks – of course they prefer to keep getting a free ride in Rhode Island, while causing most of the damage to our roads and bridges that are consistently ranked worst in the nation,” she said in an email. “They continue to argue for other ‘financing alternatives,’ making it clear to us that their preference is increasing the gas tax on EVERY Rhode Island driver.”

Raimondo administration officials noted that a traffic study by CDM Smith the state released last October, which used video cameras to record the actual number of truck trips in Rhode Island, put the average daily number higher than RIDOT’s original estimate. They also noted that the toll revenue estimate is based on the fact that trucks traveling along some routes, such as I-95, would pay multiple tolls on one trip.

In a statement, Mattiello said he plans to review the IHS study as lawmakers continue to discuss how to proceed on transportation funding. “I am aware of the analysis by IHS of the economic impact study conducted by REMI, which is a very reputable company, but I have not had the opportunity to review it yet,” he said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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