RIDOT to ‘clarify’ RhodeWorks doc with incorrect truck-toll details

Raimondo RhodeWorks 2 - truck bridge toll plan_178870

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Transportation’s first round of RhodeWorks contract documents went out so quickly that one of them didn’t match the final legislation.

In a request for proposals issued Friday, RIDOT asked qualified consultants to submit bids to do an investment-grade traffic and revenue study that will be used to guide the creation of the state’s new truck-tolling system, which the General Assembly authorized last week.

The only problem: the document was outdated, failing to account for one of the major changes made between last year’s rejected version of the RhodeWorks legislation and this year’s successful one.

Referring to the bridge repairs that truck tolls will help pay for, the document said: “A significant portion of the cost for this replacement/repair activity will come from bonds supported by electronic tolls assessed on heavy trucks.”

That is the first of multiple mentions of the toll-backed bonds – and they are no longer part of RhodeWorks.

While the plan still includes a large borrowing component, the final version dropped Raimondo’s proposal for a $600-million bond backed by toll revenue and replaced it with a $300-million bond backed by future federal highway funding. The change, made partly at the behest of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, is expected to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments over the coming decades.

RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin acknowledged the outdated language after it was discovered by WPRI.com on Monday, and said the agency plans to publish an updated bidding document soon to “clarify” the type of bond being used.

St. Martin downplayed the issue, however, noting that RIDOT wants the study’s findings to be as robust as they would have needed to be if they were being used to borrow money.

“We want to provide the same level of accuracy in the findings as if RIDOT was pursuing a revenue bond – highly scrutinized information on traffic counts, toll locations, toll amounts, revenue projections, etc. – wanting to equate this with what the industry would provide if we were doing a revenue bond,” he said in an email.

Bids to conduct the in-depth tolling study are due by March 15, and the final product would be due eight months after a consultant is chosen. That would mean the study would be finalized by November or December depending on how quickly RIDOT makes a decision. The study will include 30-year projections of truck traffic and toll revenue under a variety of scenarios.

According to the bidding document, RIDOT plans to charge a higher toll rate if a truck does not use E-ZPass and instead receives a bill based on a video capture of its license-plate number.

“RIDOT may also consider differential rates between single trailer and tandem trailer truck vehicle combinations,” the document said.

RIDOT emphasized the need for reliable information since Rhode Island’s proposed tolling system – which would levy fees only on large commercial trucks, using gantries at up to 14 bridges around the state – is of a “unique nature” and “relatively unprecedented.”

It also warned that the winning consultant may need to take “steps to minimize any potential bias arising from the anticipated opposition from the trucking industry.”Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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