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RhodeWorks now law

Providence Business News

PROVIDENCE – RhodeWorks, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s truck toll plan to improve the state’s deteriorating bridges and roads, is now law.

The plan, which will levy tolls on only large, commercial trucks, cleared the final hurdle Thursday with a Senate vote of 25 to 12 in favor of the plan. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved the bill, 52 to 21, then again on Thursday to approve the Senate bill, 50 to 18.

The legislation, according to a news release from the R.I. General Assembly, will repair more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient, bringing 90 percent of the state’s bridges into structural sufficiency by 2024.

Raimondo said RhodeWorks will add thousands of jobs in Rhode Island, improve the safety of roads and make the state more attractive for businesses to grow.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed said RhodeWorks has been “months in the making,” and that public debate helped shape the plan.

“RhodeWorks is an investment that will fix Rhode Island’s roads and bridges, put Rhode Islanders to work and save taxpayers money. It is a reasonable solution that asks those who put the most wear and tear on our transportation infrastructure to contribute to its repair and upkeep, including those from out-of-state who otherwise wouldn’t contribute at all. It’s fair to Rhode Island taxpayers and will give us a sustainable source of income to finally maintain our roads and bridges properly, for the safety of those who use them and to make Rhode Island more attractive to growing businesses,” she said.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said Rhode Island has the “worst bridges, roads and overpasses in America, and this plan will fix hundreds of them before an emergency occurs.”

“We have vastly improved the legislation since it was first introduced last spring, cutting the rate of borrowing in half and dramatically reducing the interest rate on the bonding, while inserting language to ensure that truck tolls will never be extended to other vehicles without voter approval,” Mattiello said.

However, Christopher J. Maxwell, Rhode Island Trucking Association president, said Friday that his 500-member group still opposes RhodeWorks, and “the battle is far from over.”

“A lawsuit [challenging the plan’s legality] is coming no doubt, from a party probably much larger than the Rhode Island Trucking Association,” Maxwell said.

While Maxwell said it was a “long and very constructive debate,” he said the association feels there was “quite a bit of misinformation and quite a few violations of commerce on many fronts.”

Maxwell said RhodeWorks is “perverting the interstate.” He said it discriminates a class of vehicles and questioned how truck access to secondary roads could be denied.

“We don’t own the interstate, the federal government does, and the federal government has a say,” Maxwell said.

The plan would place 14 gantries around the state with an average toll of $3 each, with a cap of $20 per day in each direction for any truck crossing the state. Officials say that approximately 60 percent of trucks paying tolls will be from out of state.

The bill was changed substantially since its introduction last year, in part to take advantage of hundreds of millions of federal highway funds garnered by the state’s congressional delegation. Those funds enabled borrowing to be reduced from $600 million to $300 million, and also reduced the state’s interest costs by 65 percent.

Patrick D. Jones, International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association executive director and CEO, applauded the passage of RhodeWorks, saying that across 35 states, tolling generates more than $14 billion annually in revenue to support nearly 6,000 miles of toll roads.

“With the passage of Rhode Works, the smallest state in the nation has taken the most significant action to address their infrastructure needs with both a reasonable plan and a steady revenue stream to repair and maintain Rhode Island’s deteriorating bridges,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry wrote to Mattiello Friday asking for a House oversight investigation into the R.I. Department of Transportation and “its tactics with respect to passage of the recent tolling legislation.” Newberry said it has come to his attention that several Democratic House members wrote to their constituents saying they supported the toll legislation because they were fearful RIDOT would retaliate by slowing down or stalling needed repair work on projects in their districts.

“If these members have indeed been pressured it is an outrageous abuse of power by the executive branch,” Newberry wrote.

Joy Fox, spokeswoman for Raimondo, wrote in an email, “These accusations don’t even make sense. The State Planning Council - not RIDOT - makes final infrastructure project planning decisions. And the data-driven decisions are made via a thorough, transparent and public process.”

“RIDOT and State Planning have been engaged in a months-long process, and a draft 10-year plan has been available on DOT’s website for months ... [the] plan was created using a data-driven asset management approach, which aims to minimize overall spending while bringing our transportation infrastructure into a state of good repair. The State Planning Council - not RIDOT - will ultimately vote on the final transportation plan after completing its rigorous and open public process,” Fox said.