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Truck-Only Toll Update: Rhode Island Begins Program

We recently updated you on a proposed bill to study truck-only tolling along Interstate 81 in Virginia. In that article, we discussed other states like Kansas and Rhode Island that have adapted similar truck-only tolling programs. On Monday, June 11, Rhode Island implemented its truck-only tolling program by charging trucks to use Interstate 95 in that state.

After two years of planning, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) activated two truck tolls on southbound Interstate 95 between exits 2 and 5. The Rhode Island statute that authorizes RIDOT to toll large commercial trucks was designed to fund projects to replace and/or repair bridges around the state.

Trucking groups have spoken out loudly against the plan as “discriminatory” and “unjust.”American Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Spear has accused the Rhode Island statute of violating the Constitution by interfering with interstate commerce, and the ATA has vowed to fight this tolling scheme every step of the way. The ATA states that trucks make up only two percent (2%) of the traffic on the highways where these tolls are being implemented, yet they are bearing 100% of the cost for maintaining the state’s infrastructure.

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell states that 94% of the costs of these truck-only tolls will be borne by Rhode Island businesses. Additionally, the tolls will increase congestion on local roads as carriers try to find new routes to avoid the tolls. Under the Rhode Island tolling system, a tractor-trailer would pay about $20 in tolls to cross Rhode Island, one way, using Interstate 95. The plan states that any one truck can only pay a maximum of $40 in tolls in one day.

The remaining tolling locations are expected to become active within the next 18 months. So far, RIDOT is pleased with the truck-only tolling system. In fact, RIDOT supports the truck-only tolling system “because trucks cause the greatest amount of damage to [Rhode Island’s] roads and bridges and yet pay a disproportionately small share for the upkeep and repair of those roads.” RIDOT views the truck-only tolls as a “reliable, dedicated source of funding” for infrastructure improvements.

According to Chris Spear, the trucking industry is willing to pay its fair share, but it is not willing to foot the bill, alone, for a tolling scheme that it believes is unconstitutional. He says truck-friendly organizations are poised to use all means necessary to end the truck-only tolling program.

This issue is important because the same debate is being held right now in Virginia. As stated earlier, when Governor Ralph Northam signed SB971 into law, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board began preparing a study looking into tolls for trucks only and/or high-occupancy vehicles. Recently, the board officially launched the I-81 corridor study and held four public hearings. There will likely be more hearings and opportunities for those affected by the potential tolling program to voice their opinions on the topic.

For more information on these issues, please contact Steve Setliff at (804) 377-1261 or ssetliff@setlifflaw.com, and for information on how you can become involved with respect to Virginia’s truck-only tolling law, please contact VTA President & CEO Dale Bennett at 804-355-5371 or dbennett@vatrucking.org.