RIDOT: 10-year transportation plan hinges on approval of truck tolls

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has just unveiled what it calls a comprehensive 10-year plan to the state’s crumbling bridges and roads, but the agency says the state must adopt Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to toll commercial trucks to make it work.

RIDOT revealed the details of their $4.7 billion Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) proposal, which aims to make wide-ranging improvements to Rhode Island’s infrastructure, late Friday after the plan was backed by a State Planning Council committee.

If the proposal is approved, RIDOT says Rhode Island will become just the third state in the country to adopt a 10-year planning approach to transportation.

“Until now, the plans have only been three or four years at a time, and I think the right way to think about infrastructure is over a 10-year period,” Governor Raimondo said Monday.

The plan calls for an additional $1 billion investment in the state’s infrastructure in order to bring Rhode Island’s bridges up to the federal minimum of 90 percent structural sufficiency by 2025. A national study earlier this year ranked Rhode Island 49th out of 50 states in terms of infrastructure, noting that one out of every six bridges is considered structurally deficient, among other problems.

To fund the plan, RIDOT says the legislature needs to approve Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal, which seeks to toll large commercial trucks in order to pay for sweeping bridge and road repairs.

The Senate pushed through a revised version of the plan in late June, but the House has yet to take up the proposal. That may change early next year.

“It’s something we can move forward with at this point,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who’s been on the fence about RhodeWorks, said Monday. “I think that our infrastructure is something we absolutely have to address.”

Under the 10-year plan, RIDOT said it would seek to make improvements to virtually all forms of the state’s infrastructure.

The agency aims to work on 453 bridges within the first five years, dedicate $708 million for various pavement projects, and accelerate the long-stalled Route 6/10 interchange project. The plan also calls for $212 million to be put towards traffic safety improvements, including upgrades to streetlights, traffic lights and traffic signals.

RIDOT says if it receives the funding for the plan, the agency will be able to get the state’s bridges up to code seven years sooner than under the current funding levels.

“It’s much more expensive to rebuild a bridge that’s falling down than to maintain one that’s in good condition,” Raimondo added. “So there’s a sense of urgency here, and that’s why I’m working so hard on it, and we have to get this passed.”

Earlier this month, a study commissioned by the state’s Department of Revenue found the RhodeWorks proposal will add more than 6,400 jobs and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in income for the state.

Local truckers have fought hard against the controversial plan, however, saying it unfairly singles them out. They’ve also argued the governor’s office has not done enough homework on the proposal.

According to RIDOT, commercial trucks are responsible for more than 70 percent of vehicle-caused damage to the state’s bridges, while they only pay 20 percent of maintenance costs.

RIDOT says its 10-year plan will be updated every year, and will quadruple public input into into statewide transportation planning. It must be approved by the State Planning Council, as well as the Federal Highway Administration.

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

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