Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo Wednesday proposed new user fees for commercial trucks to support $700 million of revenue bonds to fix the state's transportation infrastructure.
"The longer we wait to address this problem the more expensive it will become to fix," Raimondo said at a news conference in Providence, flanked by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Newport; House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston; and state transportation Director Peter Alviti.
Under her RhodeWorks initiative, electronic fees assessed to heavy commercial vehicles on interstates 95, 195 and 295, state routes 146 and 10, and U.S. route 6 would backstop the bonds, according to Raimondo, who said the measure would save more than $1 billion in projected future costs.
Funds would fix more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and prevent 500 others from falling into similar disrepair. Rhode Island has lost 1,200 construction jobs over the past three months, according to the Raimondo administration. The state ranks last among the 50 states in overall bridge condition, according to the American Society for Civil Engineers.
"Under the status quo, Rhode Island will never meet federal standards for our roads and bridges," said Raimondo. The accelerated plan, she added, could enable the state to reach 90% structural bridge sufficiency by 2024.
The Rhode Island Trucking Association plans to fight the measure.
"We are adamantly against interstate tolling," said its president, Christopher. Maxwell. According to Maxwell, the association is reviewing the legality of the proposal with its parent American Trucking Association.
"That trucking is not paying its way is a misconception. Trucking is paying its way, and then some," Maxwell said in an interview. "Rhode Island Trucking wants to be part of the solution. We feel the dedicated fuel tax is the most efficient, and we're willing to hang our hat on that."
State officials, said Maxwell, "have to clean their own house."
Mattiello said the House finance committee would hold a public hearing in the coming weeks.
The plan prohibits the Rhode Island Department of Transportation from placing a user fee on cars, motorcycles, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and small commercial vehicles, according to the governor.
Beyond bridges, RhodeWorks also reflects a new commitment toward providing increased bus and rail service as well as funding for bike lanes and accessible sidewalks, said Raimondo. It includes a proposal to construct an express bus lane as part of the reconstruction of the Route 6-Route 10 interchange - the site of Wednesday's press conference -- and seeks to attract an additional $400 million in federal matching funds for public transit.
Raimondo's proposal comes amid widespread uncertainty about the future of federal transportation funding. Many states are reluctant to proceed with transit projects despite Congress having extended the Highway Trust Fund bill by two months.
"We have to keep the ball moving at the local and regional levels," said Beverly Scott, former general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Scott held the same position at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, one of only four one of four statewide public transit systems in the U.S., from 1996 to 2002.
Truck-related fees also surfaced during recent discussions about overhauling transportation in the New York City region.
"People are using deliveries more. Should we impose a fee on delivery trucks?," Jonathan Peters, a finance professor at the College of Staten Island, asked rhetorically at a recent University Transportation Research Center conference. The center is a unit of City College of New York.