Collection of Rhode Island truck tolls delayed until end of May
April 17, 2018
Truckers traveling through Rhode Island may have noticed they are still driving toll free. That is because the collection of truck-only tolls has been further delayed until the end of May at the earliest. Sparing truckers from the controversial truck-only tolls a bit longer.
On April 12, Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti provided testimony to the state House finance committee regarding the governor’s fiscal year 2019 budget for the department. One of the first questions lawmakers had was about the truck-only tolls.
In 2016, RIDOT projected toll collection to commence in December. However, in November the department announced that it needed more time on the required environmental study, pushing the collection date to February or March.
“It’s just taking longer for us to do it,” Alviti said on a weekly radio segment he does on WPRO-AM. “The governor has instructed us to take as long as we need in order to make sure that all the systems and all of the permitting and all of the legal obligations are met to the T.”
In late December, the Federal Highway Administration signed off on a “finding of no significant impact” for the environmental assessment, paving the way for the toll gantries. On Feb. 11, almost exactly two years after Gov. Gina Raimondo signed her infrastructure plan called RhodeWorks into law, RIDOT began installing the first two toll gantries.
At the time, RIDOT expected to test the gantries for one month before officially collecting tolls, setting the projected collection date to late March. March has come and gone and tolls are still not being collected.
According to Alviti’s testimony, RIDOT ran into some delays with the regulatory and permitting processes. Furthermore, Alviti wants no stone left unturned when it comes to smoothing out all the possible kinks in the tolling system.
“The gantries are up, they are operating and we are testing them,” Alviti told the finance committee. “The instruction that we have from the governor is to test them until we are absolutely sure they are running at 100 percent, and then take more time to make sure that when we turn the switch on that they work the first time and every time that a vehicles passes under them.”
Alviti estimates that toll collection will begin by the end of May at the earliest.
“As we have said repeatedly, we are making sure we are at the highest attainable state of readiness before we go live,” RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said in a statement. “We want to reiterate that commitment. This project is highly important to RIDOT and we want the process to be seamless when we commence using it. In accordance with an adage, ‘measure three times and cut once,’ we are double checking everything to make sure we get this right from the start.”
The delays are coming at a cost. RIDOT estimated that the tolls will generate $41 million in revenue for FY 2019. However, Alviti told lawmakers that the delays would result in that revenue being “a little less.” How much is “a little less?” The new toll revenue projection for 2019 is now $25 million, a nearly 40 percent reduction.
Toll revenue will go towards the replacement and rehabilitation of bridges throughout the state. According to RIDOT, the state ranked dead last in overall bridge condition with about 22 percent of bridges deemed structurally deficient.
The first two toll gantries are being built in Hopkinton and Exeter along Interstate 95. Once RIDOT starts collecting tolls, truckers should expect to pay $3.25 at the Hopkinton gantry and $3.50 at the Exeter gantry. Toll rates will be limited to once per toll facility per day in each direction, according St. Martin.
The remaining 12 toll gantries are scheduled to be installed within the next 18 months along I-95, I-195, I-295, U.S. Route 6, state Route 146 and state Route 1. Although the first two gantries are near the southern end of the state, the other 12 gantries will concentrated on the northeastern portion.