Rhode Island Trucking Association challenges environmental assessment on toll impacts

The Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) has called out the Rhode Island Department of ansportation (RIDOT)’s allegedly inadequate environmental assessment (EA), hoping that the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) will reject the report, according a press release by the American Trucking Association (ATA).

RITA’s president and CEO Chris Maxwell voiced concerns about the report. “The Rhode Island Trucking Association and the American Trucking Associations have identified dozens of errors in RIDOT’s Environmental Assessment, which was published last month.

“We are calling upon the Federal Highway Administration to reject the EA and instruct RIDOT to publish a corrected report or to immediately order RIDOT to conduct an Environmental Impact that addresses the issues we pointed out in our analysis,” he added.

The issues RITA and ATA spotted in the report were:

  • Constitutional issues about state border tolls that RIDOT ignored. This was related to a bill passed in 2016 that was originally intended to help fund Rhode Island’s infrastructure projects through RhodeWorks where “18-wheelers will pay up to $20 to cross the state on Interstate 95. A single truck will be capped at paying $40 a day,” according to Heavy Duty Trucking. RITA and ATA called the intent to toll trucks as a flawed methodology, particularly “asking for FHWA permission to first toll at only 2 locations on I-95 near the Connecticut border, thereby avoiding a full reckoning of the effects of diversion once all toll gantries are activated.” 
  • Traffic diversion that RIDOT underestimated. The EA ended up focusing on a single alternative route, Route 3, when both trucking groups could identify several alternative routes for truckers to take. There is not enough analysis applied in checking diversionary routes, they said. The press release interpreted this as “RIDOT would impose access restrictions on tractor-semitrailers to prevent through trucks from avoiding tolls by using alternative routes.” Basing impact estimates on the so-called Berger Report alone, ended up in an “inherently erroneous” assessment when it comes to restrictions that it hopes to apply on said regulations.
  • Who would foot the bill for the toll costs was something that RIDOT “falsely claimed.” The expectation on who would fund the toll costs under the RhodeWorks program is “out-of-state businesses,” i.e., businesses with items to ship into the state and trucks to drive out of the same state. RITA’s research though uncovered some figures that show “94% of toll payments will be made by trucks traveling entirely within the state or picking up or delivering to a location in Rhode Island and just 6% of payments will be made by trucks crossing the state without stopping.” The disparity between businesses that end up funding the infrastructure projects under RhodeWorks puts RITA’s members at a disadvantage.
  • Litigation impacts were ignored by RIDOT. RITA alleged that RIDOT overlooked the scenario involving daily cap rates on tolls. The report claimed that the impact caused by “daily cap rates on tolls and imposition of tolls and imposition of tolls only on tractor-semitrailers, which both favor intrastate and interstate travelers, again raise Constitutional issues.”
  • Revenue projections that RIDOT claimed are overstated. A claim related to point #3, RITA claims that the projected $20 million revenue to be generated from RhodeWorks is more than what is expected to be collected from these toll payments. “When toll capital and administrative costs are factored in, ATA estimates that net neutral annual average revenue over the first 10 years of the program is $27.48 million, not the $46 million RIDOT claims.”

Maxwell ended the statement claiming “RIDOT’s fatally flawed EA report cannot be relied upon to make such a critical decision.”

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