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Vice President Biden Endorses Rhode Works Toll Program

Bill Cramer

Vice President Joe Biden publicly endorsed Rhode Island’s truck-only tolling plan, Rhode Works, during a visit to the state late last month.

“Gov, you took a lot of heat,” the vice president told Governor Gina Raimondo, during a talk at a Rhode Island DOT facility in East Providence. “But you got the bill passed…to provide $850 million to modernize your infrastructure and make your state more competitive.”

Just as important, Biden added, “you found a funding source. Every other state, except Connecticut, in the Northeast Corridor levies a toll on large commercial vehicles rolling through their states. That’s not because they go looking for an easy target. They do the most damage. They’re heavy.”

Biden lauded Raimondo as “one of the few governors to step up and lead” on highway funding. “I wish every governor understood the opportunities that come with modernizing infrastructure,” he told participants at the DOT event. “Companies are not going to stay in states unless they can cheaply, efficiently, and safely get their products out to the global market.”

Paying for the Roads We Use

Biden knows the geography he’s talking about very well—don’t forget that, before he became vice president, he served six terms as U.S. Senator for Delaware, on the other side of the busy New York-New Jersey corridor.

So he brings a lot of depth to his comment that “we need the trucking industry. We need it badly, but it can afford to pay the toll because it’s supposed to be proportionate.”

In other words, we pay for the roads we use. If a single 80,000-pound truck does the equivalent damage of 96,000 regular cars, direct proportionality would obviously be the end of an essential industry (and one of the tolling industry’s best customers and partners). But there has to be some degree of cost recovery, for the very simple reason that there are no free roads.

No More Time for Magical Thinking

The report on the trucking and freight site Transport Topics picked up the response to Biden’s talk from Chris Maxwell, CEO of the Rhode Island Trucking Association. “Rhode Island’s trucking industry, its business owners, and its consumers can ill-afford the effects of truck-only tolling,” he said.

The response—as obvious to the Vice President of the United States as it is to a growing number of truckers, commuters, and transportation decision-makers across the country—is that states can’t afford not to raise the funds they need to keep highways safe and reliable. User financing won’t solve the problem single-handedly, but look no further than Rhode Works for a great example of how a well-thought-out tolling program can help states manage and maintain their critical infrastructure and keep drivers safe.

The root of the problem, as IBTTA Director of Governmental Affairs Neil Gray told the Orlando Sentinel this week, is that governments are “running out of magical ways to pay for things.” Gray was commenting for a feature article on Florida’s wildly successful tolling program. But the quote applies just as well in Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Missouri, Connecticut, or any of the other states where the highway infrastructure deficit is pointing to tolling as an essential part of the solution.