Controversial Rhode Island Truck-Only Tolls Raise Infrastructure Funds

September 12, 2019 by Meyer Baron
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Tolls on Large Trucks

Rhode Island’s roads and bridges are in the worst condition of any in the country, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Census Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Ocean State has taken steps to address the problem — one that has punched a $450 million hole in the state budget — but their solution doesn’t sit well with the freight-trucking industry.

Rhode Island plans to construct a dozen gantries that will assess tolls on large trucks only, Classes 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. These classes cover the vast majority of trucks that carry freight from one state to another.

The first two toll gantries became operative in June 2018 on Interstate 95 in Hopkinton and Exeter. In their first year of operation, these toll locations collected $7.2 million. The rest of the gantries are planned for Interstates 95, 195, 295, U.S. Route 6 and State Route 146.

Effects on the freight trucking industry

Trucks are limited to paying no more than one toll charge per facility in each direction. Current tolls are $3.25 and $3.50, depending on the location. As more toll gantries are built, a $40 per day limit will go into effect. But even with a $40 per day cap, some trucks could be seeing a monthly cost increase of close to $1,000 for driving through Rhode Island. Imagine how similar programs in other states would impact the cost of shipping freight by truck.

That’s why the American Trucking Association (ATA) and several freight carriers filed suit in federal court on July 10, 2018, questioning the constitutionality of a program they say favors in-state truckers and singles out interstate carriers that use large tractor-trailers.

ATA lawyer Rich Pianka said, “This plan of theirs violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prevents states from imposing these kinds of burdens on interstate commerce.  We want to make sure to establish that other states don’t get the same idea and try to use interstate commerce – and interstate trucking – as a piggy bank for their funding issues.”

But in the spring of 2019, a judge ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction to decide the case. The ATA filed an appeal to that decision nine days later, on March 28.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island continues to build more gantries — the third one went online in mid-August — and Connecticut is doing its own study of assessing tolls against heavy-duty trucks only.

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