PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Transportation says it collected slightly more money than expected from truck tolls during the program’s first year, as the agency prepares to start installing equipment for a third location Tuesday.
Data published by RIDOT shows the first two toll gantries — on Interstate 95 in southern Rhode Island — took in $7.26 million in billable revenue between June 11, 2018, and June 10, 2019, just over the agency’s forecast of $7 million. There were about 2.2 million toll transactions in total during the year, RIDOT said.
The next tolling location — at the Woonasquatucket River Bridge on Route 6 — was originally scheduled to go live on July 31, but RIDOT spokesperson Charles St. Martin said its first day of operations has now been pushed back to Aug. 13. Testing is slated to begin July 15.
Asked about the short delay, St. Martin said, “we had been seeing variances in steel supplies influenced by outside forces in the steel market and in this case, there was a delay in obtaining the steel for the gantry.”
“And we’ve seen steel delays on some of our projects; it’s not just on this project,” he added.
Levying tolls on large commercial trucks is a key component of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks initiative, a 10-year plan to spend nearly $5 billion repairing and upgrading Rhode Island’s decaying infrastructure. The trucking industry has fought the program fiercely — including in the courts, where the legal battle remains unresolved — but has not been able to stop the rollout of the gantries.
The industry suffered a setback in its battle against the toll program in March, when a federal judge in Providence dismissed a lawsuit over the issue because he believed the matter should be litigated in state court. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments in September on the industry’s appeal of that ruling.
As Target 12 reported in May, RIDOT is planning to roll out a new gantry location almost every month until a dozen are in operation by next spring, according to a draft schedule created by Kapsch TrafficCom, the contractor operating the system. The company is being paid $68.9 million over 10 years to run the tolls.
The toll rates for the next 10 locations vary from $2 at the Woonasquatucket River Bridge to as high as $9.50 at the Washington Bridge that carries I-195 over the Seekonk River between Providence and East Providence. The latter gantry is expected to be the last one to go into operation as part of the next group, beginning collections next April.
RIDOT plans to add a new gantry location almost every month.
The new state budget anticipates truck tolls will bring in $25 million in revenue during the 2019-20 fiscal year, which began July 1. Even that amount is still well below the original goal of $45 million annually, which the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council has said could eventually make tolls a cash cow for RIDOT.
Rhode Island’s continuing toll rollout comes as Connecticut’s leaders continue to bicker over whether to expand tolling in that state to tackle a backlog of infrastructure needs. Gov. Ned Lamont recently renewed his advocacy for the idea, but is facing significant resistance from legislators.
Lamont proposes tolling passenger cars as well as trucks.
Construction on the latest toll begins Tuesday night on Route 6 in Providence.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook