RIDOT trying to block tractor-trailers from using some secondary roads

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The State Traffic Commission is slated to consider a proposal Thursday that would bar tractor-trailers from driving on certain state roads, many of which would allow the truck drivers to avoid new toll gantries expected to start collecting money by the end of the year.

The R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) requested the new restrictions, according to a letter obtained by Eyewitness News, and the Traffic Commission agreed to consider the request. The 15 routes vary from Route 3 in Hopkinton to Route 1A in Warwick to Route 122 in Pawtucket.

An Eyewitness News review of the proposed locations shows that many of the routes would allow truckers to get around the proposed toll gantry locations, although RIDOT did not cite that as a reason for the request.

“We are asking the State Traffic Commission to help ensure that large commercial trucks do not use local roads and neighborhoods as throughways but rather that they stay on limited access interstates which are designed to accommodate them,” RIDOT spokesperson Lisbeth Pettengill said in a statement.

Truckers have long promised to find ways around the 13 toll gantries after Gov. Gina Raimondo last year signed into law her high-profile RhodeWorks bill, which aims to fix a long list of roads and bridges at a cost of about $4.7 billion over 10 years. The tolls, which will only charge large commercial tractor-trailers, are expected to help raise the revenue.

“This is the next phase in the war against the trucking industry,” said Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.

Maxwell’s group has promised to file a lawsuit against the state as soon as the first truck toll is collected, claiming the state’s failure to maintain its own bridges caused the deteriorating condition, not the trucks. He questioned how police would be able to enforce the ban.

“How are they going to find out what trucks are traveling what roads for what reason?” Maxwell asked.

According to the letter from the State Traffic Commission, federal regulations say the use of the secondary roads cannot be restricted for the purpose of reaching the “National Network” of highways that link states and cities, or if the trucks need to reach a local area or stop for food, rest, fuel or repairs.

The American Trucking Association cited those regulations in a letter to Raimondo back in 2016, stating there are limitations on the state’s “authority to prevent trucks from using alternate routes to avoid tolls.”

“In addition, when estimating potential toll revenue and the impacts of diversion on safety, congestion, road and bridge maintenance costs, the economy, and the environment, it would be prudent to avoid assumptions about truck restrictions that are currently disallowed by federal and/or state law,” Vice President Richard Pianka said in the letter.

Pettengill said tractor-trailers should stay on the interstates, which are designed to withstand their weight.

“This ensures safety for both people and roads,” she said. “It helps preserve the quality of life in our towns, rural areas and neighborhoods. It relieves congestion and it keeps our assets viable until they can be repaired or rehabilitated.”

The State Traffic Commission is slated to take up the proposal at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.