David Roche, managing director of Jewelers Shipping Association, a Cranston trucking company, predicts a lot more big rigs on the Mass Pike and Route 84 in Connecticut if truck toll gantries rise on major highways across Rhode Island to collect financing for a proposed, large-scale bridge repair plan.
And local Ocean State roads like Route 1 and Route 2 are also in for a lot more 18-wheeler traffic, he said, echoing truckers throughout the state.
There's a similar sentiment at JLine Transportation in East Providence, where vice president Josh Werchadlo said trucking companies will be poring over maps to find ways around the tolls if they are approved by state lawmakers.
"For in-state companies, we are going to do whatever we can to get around them," said Werchadlo, who thinks the proposed Washington Bridge toll on Route 195 may be the most difficult to elude. "Some will be difficult to avoid some will be easier. Unless you have business in Rhode Island, you are just going to try to go around it."
For trucks heading up and down the East Coast without a final destination in Rhode Island, both Roche and Werchadlo said Route 95 will be a no-go zone, with Connecticut's Route 84 and Route 395 the most popular alternatives.
Since Governor Raimondo released Tuesday a list of 14 preliminary gantry locations for electronic toll collection, truckers have started eyeing ways around the proposed gantry sites whose locations were chosen based on truck traffic volume and difficulty for big-rig truckers to avoid.
Route 95 has the most proposed toll locations, six, with other tolls at the obvious alternatives, such as the Route 6-10 Connector and Route 295.
"There will be very few escape routes, but I am sure there will be some," Roche said.
Toll opponents at Rhode Island Trucking Association on Thursday looked to bolster their argument that the state is underestimating toll avoidance by releasing results of a truckers survey in which more than three-quarters of those who responded said they would change their routes to get around tolls.
The survey, from the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, got responses from 373 of the group's 27,000 members in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Just under 77 percent of those who responded said they would "always" alter their route to avoid tolls in Rhode Island. 21.7 percent said they would sometimes alter their route to avoid tolls and 1.6 percent said they would never change their route. Seventy-nine of the 373 survey respondents said they would avoid Rhode Island completely.
"We have repeatedly heard from the governor that diversion will not be a problem; this survey contradicts the governor’s assumptions," said Christopher Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association in a news release with the results.
Although the state has done multiple traffic and economic studies of the toll plan, the Raimondo administration has not released detailed diversion projections, denying a public records request for those numbers from Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick.
If too many trucks avoid the tolls, it could leave the state short on payments needed to pay a proposed bridge repair bond.
Raimondo is negotiating with General Assembly leaders over details of a toll-backed bridge repair plan, including the size of the plan, how much would be borrowed, toll rates and an incentive package to compensate local trucking companies.
Included in Raimondo's letter to lawmakers Tuesday along with the preliminary gantry locations was an assurance that Col. Steven O'Donnell, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, would "take action" to prevent trucks from leaving highways to avoid tolls.
Reached by phone Thursday, O'Donnell said there was no specific enforcement plan yet because so many details of the tolling program have yet to be finalized.
One concern expressed by truckers is how police would differentiate between trucks getting off the highway to avoid tolls and getting off the highway to make a delivery.
O'Donnell on Thursday said legislation prohibiting all large trucks from certain local roads may be part of the solution.