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RIDOT falling behind schedule on new truck tolls

Politics
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Transportation has missed multiple self-imposed deadlines to get more truck toll gantries up and running, raising doubts about whether the program will bring in the full $25 million called for in this year’s budget.

A schedule RIDOT provided in May indicated the agency had hoped to have seven of the 13 locations up and running by this week, but only four are currently in operation. A fifth — at the Leigh Road Bridge on I-295 in Cumberland — is not expected to go live until later this fall or early in the winter, roughly three months behind schedule.

RIDOT communications director Liz Pettengill acknowledged the timing has slipped. “We have experienced some delays in installing our gantries due to severe flooding in the Midwest where our steel fabricator is located,” she told WPRI 12 in an email.

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 current state budget anticipates truck tolls will bring in $25 million in revenue during the 2019-20 fiscal year, which began July 1. (That amount would still be well below the original goal of $45 million annually, an amount which could make tolls a cash cow for RIDOT down the road.)

RIDOT has been forced to cut toll revenue forecasts before: when Raimondo released her state budget proposal last January, she slashed the projection for the fiscal year then in progress by $34 million. Tolls wound up yielding $7.26 million in revenue for the year.

Pettengill said RIDOT thinks the hit to toll revenue from the latest delays “should be relatively minimal,” partly because “project managers and the contractor are working diligently to expedite the schedule and are rearranging the sequencing of certain gantry installations to minimize the effect on our revenues.”

“We will have a better picture of the finances as these plans are implemented but are confident that there will be no impact on the overall RhodeWorks program,” she added.

The four tolling locations now operating collected $2.8 million between July 1 and Oct. 31, recording 844,000 transactions.

Another RIDOT spokesperson, Charles St. Martin, said he could not provide an updated version of the toll installation schedule he released in May. But he said the contractor hired to operate the system, Kapsch TrafficCom, “is obligated to get the remaining locations operational by late June 2020.”

Kapsch is slated to earn $68.9 million over 10 years to manage the tolls.

The latest challenges affecting Rhode Island’s truck toll program come at the same time that Democratic leaders in Connecticut have just forward their own plan for truck-only tolling. Connecticut’s top GOP state senator, Len Fasano, has tried to rally opposition by citing a pending federal lawsuit against Rhode Island’s program brought by the trucking industry.

“So in Rhode Island the question is whether or not tolling trucks only is constitutional,” Fasano said. “If they do it in Connecticut and the court finds it unconstitutional, [Connecticut Democrats] will say, ‘OK, let’s add cars. Now we’re constitutional.'”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.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

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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