Truckers blare opposition to tolls outside RI Statehouse

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Truck toll protest_258580

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The trucking industry has been very outspoken against Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal over the past few months, and their opposition could be heard for miles Wednesday in downtown Providence.

Dozens of trucks paraded around the statehouse Wednesday afternoon, drivers blaring their horns, as House lawmakers inside debated whether to impose tolls on tractor trailers to fund sweeping road and bridge repairs.

After hours of discussion, the House approved the legislation by a 52-21 vote.

The rolling rally consisted of both local and national groups. Many different types of trucks showed up, but not all will be tolled through the proposed plan. Representatives approved an amendment to the plan Wednesday that clearly defines the type of trucks that would be tolled.

The amendment restricts tolling to large tractor trailers, as defined by a federal statute. They also must be pulling a trailer. Previously, the bill restricted tolling to Class 8 trucks, which opened up concerns about combination vehicles.

Among the protesters was Darrin Roth of the American Trucking Association, who said he believes the plan won’t generate as much revenue as lawmakers think.

“RIDOT is going to have to figure out how to implement this plan, and frankly I think they have bitten off more than they can chew,” said Roth. “This is a massive program. They aren’t going to have the revenue to do it because they aren’t going to collect the toll revenue that they expect. In the end, this is all going to fall apart.”

The proposal would fund a multiyear surge of repairs through two mechanisms: borrowing $300 million against future federal highway funding, as well as refinancing old borrowing to yield an additional $120 million; and imposing a new toll on large commercial trucks, projected to yield $45 million a year.

“No solution is perfect, any solution to a big problem like this will have its detractors, but the message is this: we’re finally getting around to fixing our problems,” Raimondo said prior to the House vote. “We’ve talked enough – it’s time to take action.”

The full Senate is also expected to approve the legislation at their session Thursday afternoon. Democratic leaders hope the bill will be on the governor’s desk for her signature by the end of the week.

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