“From the very beginning of this process, we have continually called on the administration to release more information related to their tolling plan. Unfortunately, those repeated requests have been ignored and it has forced us to file a public records request so that our members and all Rhode Island businesses can truly understand the impact of RhodeWorks,” Christopher Maxwell, president of the trucking association, said on Monday.
In a recent interview, Governor Raimondo outlined a two-stage process under which her administration would not release specific locations and amounts until after state lawmakers vote on her toll-financed bridge repair plan, funded by a $600-million revenue bond that would cost a projected $1.1 billion, including interest, over 30 years.
Spokeswoman Marie Aberger elaborated: “We have to pass legislation to have authority to assess user fees. ... Then we would make final determinations, in consultation with the [Federal Highway Administration], about the locations of the gantries and enter into a memorandum of understanding with the federal government. ... Then we can commission the investment grade traffic study. ... Finally, we can secure financing."
But this was Maxwell's response to that scenario on Monday: "Stating that the Federal Highway Administration has to approve toll locations so they cannot be disclosed yet is not a plausible excuse for withholding this information. It is clear the administration knows where they intend to place the tolling gantries; otherwise, how could they attempt to project revenue to support the bond payment? The governor is asking members of the General Assembly to make a $1-billion decision, yet they don’t even know how many tolling locations will be located in their districts.”
Aberger confirmed the receipt of the truckers' records' request. Beyond that, all she said was: '"RIDOT received this request and they will review and respond.''
In his written records request to RIDOT, Maxwell asked the state transportation agency to produce:
— "The full Level 2 Traffic Collection Report completed by CDM Smith and RIDOT, including but not limited to all data used in the study methodology, the methodology used in determining its traffic counts all empirical traffic data used in study.
— "A statewide roadway map with specific locations of all proposed toll gantries for the RhodeWorks program.
— "The specific tolling locations used in preparing the ... study entitled: The Economic Impact of RhodeWorks: An Accelerated Transportation Restoration Plan report and the CDM Smith Level 2 Traffic Collection Report.
— "All written and electronic correspondence between RIDOT and the Office of the Governor regarding toll and bridges locations for RhodeWorks program.
— "All correspondence both written and electronic between RIDOT and the Federal Highway Administration related to the federal tolling exemption."
“We do not want to have a combative relationship with the governor,'' Maxwell said. "Let’s get this information into the public domain so this entire process is more transparent and lawmakers will have a greater understanding of what they are voting on.''
Among the highlights of the truckers' alternative to Raimondo’s proposed tolls on big trailer trucks:
— Increase the current 34-cent diesel tax by 18 cents to produce an estimated $10.8 million annually.
By way of comparison, Connecticut’s gas tax is 55 cents.
— Increase the truck registration fee by $500 per year to produce a projected $1.6 million annually. The truckers association says Rhode Island currently has the lowest truck registration fee in New England.
"At first glance, two main concerns jump out,'' Aberger said in October when the alternative was proposed. "It wouldn’t generate nearly enough money to tackle the enormity of the problem and it would impose most of the costs on Rhode Island trucks and businesses.”
“Shifting the burden from predominately out-of-state trucks to predominately Rhode Island trucks," she said, "might serve the policy interests of the national trucking lobby — who oppose user fees no matter what — but that doesn’t mean it’s good for Rhode Island."