Traffic Commission rejects plan to block truckers from secondary roads, but will reconsider

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The State Traffic Commission on Thursday denied a request by the R.I. Department of Transportation to block tractor-trailers from driving on certain secondary roads instead of using interstates, but agreed to reconsider the matter in 45 days.

The vote was 3-2 against the plan to prohibit the large commercial trucks from driving on certain segments of roads including parts of Route 3, Route 122, and Route 146.

RIDOT requested the restrictions for safety reasons, according to a spokesperson, in order to keep tractor-trailers on interstate highways that are designed to withstand their weight. The plan comes as RIDOT gears up to begin tolling those same large trucks on interstates, although DOT Director Peter Alviti insisted Thursday morning the proposal is not just about making sure trucks are paying the tolls.

“Not just to beat the tolls, this isn’t just about that,” Alviti said in an interview on WPRO radio. “Large commercial vehicles on local roads going through cities and towns is not something that we want … not only does it create congestion and provide a safety problem, but it also damages the lesser capable roads and bridges that are along those secondary roads.”

A RIDOT spokesperson declined to provide anyone for an interview with Eyewitness News about the issue.

State Rep. Michael Chippendale, who testified against the proposal before the commission, said officials gave inadequate notice about the meeting.

“I was extremely dismayed to show up at this hearing and see that I was the only legislator or state official who appeared and also testified on this proposal,” Chippendale, R-Foster said in a statement. “I fear that if I hadn’t spoken so strongly against the proposal and the process by which they were attempting to approve it, it may have simply been rubber-stamped.”

Chippendale testified that constituents who drove trucks had called him Thursday morning, concerned they’d have to go out of their way to their destinations.

“It kills hours, it kills gas mileage, it kills time,” Chippendale said.

According to the State Traffic Commission, if the restrictions are approved trucks will still be able to use local roads to get to local destinations or to stop for food, fuel, rest and repairs.

The Rhode Island Trucking Association called the proposal “the next phase in the war against the trucking industry,” and vowed to file a lawsuit against the state once the first toll is collected.

Republican Minority Leader Rep. Patricia Morgan, one of the fiercest opponents of the truck tolls, encouraged people to contact the State Traffic Commission with their comments before the proposal is reconsidered.

“RIDOT came to the State Traffic Commission with a nicely worded rationale for this foolish proposal, but it was not backed up with data or with the agreement of the local municipalities whose small businesses would be impacted,” Morgan said.

The 13 truck tolls are part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s signature infrastructure program called RhodeWorks that passed last year. The program is slated to spend $4.7 billion over ten years to improve roads and bridges in the state, in part funded by the truck tolls. A report commissioned by RIDOT this year showed that bridge conditions are slowly improving since the program became law.

RIDOT says the first toll gantry is expected to be up and running by the end of 2017.