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A Hummel Report Investigation

Taking a Toll

Critics argued that within a $9 billion annual budget the Rhode Island could find $45 million to help fund desperately-need bridge repairs across the state, instead of tolling trucks. But now that the ¬†Rhode Works tolling plan is law, the state’s D.O.T. is working toward a launch in 18 to 24 months. This week, Jim Hummel begins a two-part series to see what’s been going on behind the scenes, takes a closer look at the tolling technology and finds out what other states along the Eastern seaboard are doing on their highways.

For more details on the Rhode Works program, click here.

SCRIPT

It is full steam ahead for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and by 2018 trucks entering the state can expect more than a dozen gantries like this one spread over five major highways across Rhode Island. The goal: to collect upwards of $45 million a year and spend it on much-needed bridge repair.
When the debate about - and vote on - Governor Raimondo’s controversial Rhode Works plan ended three months ago, the DOT focused on getting the truck tolling plan up and running in 18 to 24 months - while it borrows funding to get actual road repairs going this year.
Alviti: ``The entire program has its foundation in a 10-year plan, a very solid 10-year plan that we put together.’’
In a wide-ranging interview with The Hummel Report, D.O.T. Director Peter Alviti talked about Rhode Works’ mission and what Rhode Island taxpayers can expect as the department implements a tolling plan expected to provide 10-15 percent of more than a billion dollars to rebuild the state’s crumbling bridges, deemed the worst in the country.
That’s part of a larger, $4.7 billion budget to cover the entire transportation system, including highway maintenance and operations. Federal money has, and will continue to account, for the vast majority of that spending.
Alviti: ``This year we have $140 million of bridge and road contracts going out between now and the fall of this year. Next year that will go up to $200 million and for two years after that...’’
Hummel: ``$200 million in addition to the $150 million?’’
Alviti: ``That’s correct.’’
Hummel: ``At the end of the 10 years, Director, what percent of those structurally deficient bridges are going to be covered in terms of bringing up to snuff.’’
Alviti: ``90 percent of the bridges in Rhode Island will be structurally sufficient. Only 10 percent will be left, structurally deficient.’’
The 10-year plan, which is posted online, runs more than 600 pages and the DOT just published its first quarterly report, which lists budget and schedule information for all of its current projects.
Alviti: ``The misconception many have that tolling is going to provide the complete funding we need here at D.O.T. Quite the reverse is true.’’
Alviti said the legislature last year created dedicated accounts - apart from the state’s General Fund - to be used specifically for highway maintenance. They include the increased motor vehicle and registration and license fee surcharges we’ve all been paying and other fees and surcharges that have generated more than $44 million already this year, which D.O.T has to use for highway maintenance. That’s in addition to the state’s gas tax.
Alviti: ``Even counting all of that funding in order to accomplish that goal we needed another 10-15 percent additional revenue.’’
The plan is to put up a total of 14 gantries: six over the length of Route 95, three over Route 295, two over Route 146, two over Route 6 and one over Route 195.
Over the past two months The Hummel Report travelled from New Hampshire to Virginia, examining the tolling systems in states like New Jersey, and Delaware and the beltway that surrounds Washington, D.C. While they all employ state-of-the-art technology - Rhode Island plans to use exclusively what’s called Open Road Tolling - no¬† toll booths or collectors. And we found, none of those states tolls only trucks. Only a small section of the New York Thruway - part of a larger system - does that.

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