R.I. singles out trucks for tolls

Rhode Island is embracing road tolls in an interesting way, with a plan to assess the fees only on big-rig trucks.

The idea, conceived by Gov. Gina Raimondo and backed by key Democratic lawmakers, is a way for Rhode Island to have its cake and eat it, too. Out-of-state truckers will pay most of the tolls and the money will be used to help finance repairs of the state’s crumbling bridges.

The law authorizing truck-only tolls passed in February and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began looking for a contractor to build the tolling system this week. If all goes as planned, two tolling facilities on I-95, in Hopkinton and Exeter, will go up within six months, with 11 more to follow. When all the work is done, an 18-wheeler will pay $3 per toll or a maximum of $20 to travel from Connecticut to Massachusetts on I-95.

Raimondo plans to use the toll money along with federal and state dollars to finance a decade-long, multibillion-dollar effort to repair the state’s bridges. Rhode Island has 1,162 bridges, more than half of which are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, twice the national average.

Even though truck-only tolls seem like political catnip, Raimondo encountered fierce opposition to her proposal. Her initial legislation in 2015 was shelved amid outrage from trucking groups. But a second proposal that reduced the maximum I-95 toll from $30 to $20 picked up broader support. A provision was also inserted barring tolls on passenger vehicles unless voters approved those type of fees in a ballot referendum. The Rhode Island House approved the measure 52-21 and the Senate passed it 24-11.

Once the tolling gantries are up and running, Rhode Island will be the only state in the nation with truck-only tolls. Most other states toll all vehicles, but charge truckers more. In Massachusetts, for example, it costs $7.45 to travel the length of the Massachusetts Turnpike in a two-axle passenger vehicle and $47.80 in a nine-axle vehicle.



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