RIDOT installs third truck toll gantry

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Transportation installed a truck tolling gantry at the Woonasquatucket River Bridge on Route 6 in Providence Tuesday night.

It is the third truck toll location in the Ocean State. In 2018, the Wood River Valley Bridge in Hopkinton and the Tefft Hill Trail and Baker Pines Bridges in Exeter, were installed.

The R.I. Department of Transportation has merged two of its 14 proposed truck tolling locations and increased the charge to make up the money, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti announced Tuesday.

Alviti said while the agency was initially proposing another gantry to be placed nearby at a spot on the Route 6/10 Connector, RIDOT leaders decided it made more financial sense to eliminate it.

“We’re combining them into a single location because they were less than a mile apart,” Alviti said. “And we’ll save $2.5 million in construction.”

As part of the change, RIDOT plans to increase the toll rate at the Woonasquatucket Bridge from $2 to $5, in order to include the originally planned $3 charge for the abandoned Route 6/10 toll location. A one-month public comment period on the proposed hike begins Wednesday, and trucks are supposed to begin paying the toll on Aug. 13.

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. RIDOT data shows the first two tolls — on Interstate 95 in southern Rhode Island — took in over $7 million in billable revenue during their first 12 months.

“They’ve been doing a bit better financially than we anticipated,” Alviti said.

The trucking industry has fought the program fiercely — including in the courts, where a federal appeals judge will hear arguments in September — but has not been able to stop the rollout of the gantries. Rhode Island Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Maxwell renewed his criticism on Tuesday.

“Truck-only tolling was the first initiative in the Raimondo brand which is just now being exposed nationally for its systematic failures,” Maxwell said in a statement. “Regardless of gantry construction and revenue claims, this scheme, like UHIP and Providence Public Schools, has cost Rhode Island countless millions and its national reputation which will take generations to restore.”

Alviti dismissed the suggestion. “They worked from Day 1 that we turned the switch on last year. And we expect they’re in a stable condition to be able to begin to ramp up,” he said.

As Target 12 reported in May, RIDOT is planning to roll out a new gantry location almost every month until a dozen are in operation by next spring, according to a draft schedule created by Kapsch TrafficCom, the contractor operating the system. Kapsch is slated to be paid up to $68.9 million over 10 years to run the tolls.

With the Route 6/10 toll gantry scrapped, that leaves just one of the original 14 proposed gantry locations not yet permitted and scheduled: I-95 south of Smith Street. A RIDOT spokesperson said Tuesday a final plan for that location is still being worked out.

The new state budget anticipates truck tolls will bring in $25 million in revenue during the 2019-20 fiscal year, which began July 1. The priciest of the 13 planned tolls is slated to be a $9.50 charge to cross the Washington Bridge that carries I-195 over the Seekonk River between Providence and East Providence. That location is expected to begin operations next April.

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