RI truck toll revenue cut by $34M due to slower rollout

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo has sharply lowered her forecast of how much money truck tolls will generate this year because they are getting up and running more slowly than initially expected.

The budget proposal Raimondo released earlier this month projects that tolls will generate $7 million in the current 2018-19 budget year, which is $34 million less than was expected when the budget passed last June.

From there, the budget estimates tolls will bring in $25 million in the 2019-20 budget year, which starts July 1. Both projections are well below the revenue forecast of $45 million that was often cited during the legislative debate over RhodeWorks, the infrastructure-repair program partly funded by tolls at 14 proposed locations, in 2015.

R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti said the changes to the revenue forecasts were triggered by the schedule for construction of gantries, not a failure of the two gantries that are up and running to meet expectations.

“It’s going exactly as planned except for the delays in the permitting process and the environmental assessment process,” Alviti told WPRI 12.

The first two gantries are beating agency expectations, with revenue about 10% higher and barely any trucks diverting their routes to avoid the tolls, Alviti said, calling it “a really good place to be.” The two gantries generated $3.7 million from 1.1 million transactions during their first six months of operation, agency data shows.

RIDOT received environmental approval last month from the Federal Highway Administration to build the next 10 of the 14 gantries. Alviti said he expects the contractor operating the toll system, Kapsch TrafficCom, to break ground on the next location “as early as May.”

“Then I expect a rapid succession between May and about a year from May to get all the rest of them going,” Alviti said, though “it could be a little longer. … We’re working our way to the $45 [million].”

RIDOT expects four gantries to be up and running by July, rising to five in September, seven in October, eight in November, nine in January, 10 in March, 11 in April and 12 in June, according to the House Fiscal Office.

The final two of the original 14 proposed locations will take the longest to move through the approval process, which Alviti said is mostly tied to revisions in the plans for the Route 6/10 Connector project as well as the I-95 Viadcut bridge in downtown Providence.

“We’re going to do the last two eventually,” he said.

The American Trucking Associations filed a federal lawsuit over the tolls back in July, arguing they unfairly target large commercial tractor-trailers. The state has asked to dismiss the case, arguing federal court is not the proper venue for it. A judge has not yet ruled on that motion, which was the subject of a court hearing earlier this month.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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