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Tolling Points

Rhode Island Truck Toll Decision

Bill Cramer

A U.S. federal judge set an important precedent last week, with a decision that referred a legal challenge on Rhode Island’s truck tolling plan to the state court system.

“IBTTA supports the state of Rhode Island's plan to use truck tolls as one of many revenue streams to rebuild major bridges in the state,” said IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones. “Large majorities of Americans support greater investment in infrastructure. While the judge who dismissed the lawsuit did not address the merits of the case, we remain hopeful that no court will deny Rhode Island, or any state, the ability to assess user fees including tolls to rebuild its vital bridges and highways.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is considering its next steps, The Associated Press reports. The decision by the federal judge means that any effort to block truck tolls as an infrastructure funding tool will have to proceed state by state, rather than being affirmed or ruled out by a single court decision.

A Bigger Picture in Rhode Island

The state of Rhode Island opened two gantry-based tolling points along Interstate 95 last June as the first of more than a dozen the state planned to introduce over an 18-month period, the Providence Journal reported.

Those tolling points are part of a much larger, decade-long infrastructure plan, Rhode Works, that has been improving safety and reliability along the state’s roads and bridges since 2016.

“When they’re all in operation, the tolls are expected to collect $450 million over 10 years,” the Journal noted. That made the tolls an important component of Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to clear a serious bridge and highway maintenance backlog through Rhode Works.

Two Paths to the Same Outcome

The court process is also sending a useful message at a moment when neighboring Connecticut is considering a tolling plan of its own. AP says Governor Ned Lamont had been watching the case closely.

“Lamont, who ran for office supporting tolls only on big rigs, included two tolling options for lawmakers to consider in his new budget: tolling just trucks or tolling everyone,” AP notes. With $200 million in potential annual revenue from truck tolls and about $800 million from a full tolling program, the governor has recently made it clear he is now supporting the more wide-ranging tolls to help generate the revenue necessary to address Connecticut's transportation infrastructure needs.

Lamont spokesperson Maribel La Luz said the court ruling in Rhode Island "confirms what we already believed to be true," that "the road to resolution of this case will be long and winding, and ultimately, we don't believe it will provide the clarity, or revenue, that Connecticut needs to truly enhance and upgrade its infrastructure system."

Which means that, for Connecticut, Lamont's wider ranging tolling proposal "is the path forward if we are serious about supporting our state's economic growth and development."

The side-by-side combination of two equally viable tolling options—truck tolls in Rhode Island, all-vehicle tolls in Connecticut—is the sign of a healthy, diverse user financing system taking shape.

Learn about the many brands and varieties of tolling at IBTTA’s Summit on Finance and Policy, May 19-21, 2019 in Philadelphia.


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