Controversial Rhode Island Truck Tolls Bill Signed Into Law

Rhode Island’s governor signed into law a controversial measure that will impose tolls on commercial trucks traveling through the state — reportedly the only state with a truck-only tolling system.

Under the new “RhodeWorks” plan, 18-wheelers will pay up to $20 to cross the state on Interstate 95. A single truck will be capped at paying $40 a day.

The state House of Representatives passed it 52-21 Wednesday night after seven hours of what one news source called “lively debate.” State senators Thursday passed the bill 25-12 after three hours of discussion. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signed it shortly afterward.

That “lively debate” was held as dozens of truckers paraded around the statehouse in Providence Wednesday afternoon, blaring their horns in protest, according to WPRI.

The tolls will finance a 10-year plan to repair deteriorating bridges in the state; the state has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country.

Fourteen gantries will be installed to toll trucks in the state. Each of 14 proposed electronic tolls would be about $3. The tolls are expected to bring in around $45 million a year once they are up and running, which the governor said will take at least a year to install.

“When they come through Rhode Island, they don’t even stop to get a coffee,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero, a North Providence Democrat, as he closed the debate Thursday, according to a report on NBC 10 WJAR. “They just keep on going and wreck our roads.”

The trucking industry and some politicians were against the bill. NBC 10 quoted Bob Lafleur from the Rhode Island Independent Contractors, ”These mom and pop companies run on a shoe-string. We were hoping that they would realize that the impact that this toll program would have is significant.”

Representatives of the American Trucking Associations and the state trucking association said before the bill’s passage that lawsuits will likely be filed challenging the law’s constitutionality.

Last month, ATA cautioned the governor against banking on revenues from tolls that are “premised on truck restrictions that are currently disallowed by federal and/or state law.” Efforts to use state police to keep truckers from exiting the highway to avoid tolls, the association said, would be prohibited by federal law.

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