Trucking Assoc. Calls for Creation of Oversight Committee to Review RhodeWorks Project Selection

Wednesday, May 24, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team

Chris Maxwell
Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell is calling for the immediate formation of an independent oversight committee to review bridge inspection information related to project selection under the RhodeWorks truck-only tolling plan. 

Concerns Over Oxford Street Bridge

Maxwell questioned decision-making which led to the selection of the Oxford Street Bridge in Providence as a priority for bridges being replaced and repaired.

The bridge is located on Interstate 95 in the area of the Thurbers Avenue curve. It is a 50-foot overpass that will undergo superstructure replacement at a cost of $5.7 million dollars. 

“The Oxford Street Bridge has a 72% sufficiency rating which means it’s in very good shape. We have very serious concerns as to why RIDOT selected this location to spend our industry’s toll money and our taxpayer’s limited funds to essentially replace a structure that is in good condition while other bridges in our state are crumbling,” said Maxwell. 

Maxwell produced a letter from an experienced, third-party structural engineer who confirmed the concerns. 

Dated May 15, the letter from registered professional engineer Richard Walther of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates in Chicago said “The Oxford Street Bridge is neither structurally deficient nor functionally obsolete, so its inclusion in the RhodeWorks Program at this time does not advance the state’s goal in this regard.”

Maxwell concludes “RhodeWorks is bad policy that will fail our state in the end. But it adds insult to injury to think that they are going to tear down sound, functional overpasses to drive their program. That is why it is imperative that there be prompt, independent oversight of RIDOT on all bridge inspections and spending related to RhodeWorks.” 

  • 1.

    Why won't the Governor define the proposal?


    The Administration has put forth a number specifics that have changed since the original proposal, including the original “17-22” tolling locations changed to simply 17, and the reduction of toll amount from “$40-$50” to $30.  However, the Administration just got the green light last month by the Feds to move forward with the loosely-defined plan, which included inquiring as to whether the undersides of bridges could be tolled — which the Feds said now. 

    Where will the tolls be located?  

    Where had they been considering bridge undersides, and why? 

    The loosely-defined plan has opened up the Administration to criticism that is moving to fast. 
     

     
  • 2.

    When will RI get the details?

    The Senate approved an updated version of the truck toll plan last General Assembly session.  With no fall General Assembly session scheduled after much speculation, the lawmakers will ostensibly resume taking up the issue upon return in January or soon thereafter. 

    Will a more detail proposal be made public prior to the new session, or will the nuts and bolds — and gantries — be kept under lock and key until they’re unveiled at a Finance Committee hearing?
     

     
  • 3.

    Does 80% of the $500 Million really only go to cover 6/10 Interchange?


    The administration is proposing a $500 million revenue bond - and anticipating refinancing of federal debt as well as an influx of new federal funds - to provide the basis to cover costs for the project dubbed “RhodeWorks."

    However, of that $500 million bond, $400 million of it would go to just one project - the much needed repairs on the crumbling 6-10 connector, which represents less than 1% of all state roads. 

    Granted, not all of Rhode Island’s roads are in as dire condition at the 6/10 connector, but how much will the state have to spend — or bond — if $400 million goes to one project alone?
     

     
  • 4.

    Is RI stuck in a cycle for bonding?


    With Rhode Island still smarting (will it ever not) from 38 Studios, the issue of a non-voter approved bond has taken on the appearance of a four-letter word. 

    The Republican Policy Group has put forth a no-toll — and no-bonding plan, but the administration continues to make that case that despite the costs associated with bond debt, it will cost less for RI to pay for the projects now. 

    In case you missed it, former Attorney General Arlene Violet wrote a scathing review of the state’s bonding industrial complex this week in the Valley Breeze, which is worth the read.  

     
  • 5.

    Will the General Assembly consider alternative proposals?


    The Republicans have their no-toll, no-bond, pay-go proposal.  The Center for Freedom and Prosperity put forth a “P3” proposal for a public-private partnership.  The Trucking Association put forth their own no-toll plan, with increased fees and taxes instead to pay for the infrastructure costs. 

    And State Rep. Doreen Costa has put forth a call to put any bond question before voters.  How much, if any, of these other approaches will see the light of day at the General Assembly?  The chances might be slim, but the opposition is vocal — and mobilized.  Don’t expect bond opponents to go anywhere anytime soon.  

     
  • 6.

    Can RI be assured it won't extend to autos?


    The current proposal, as it sands, is to toll only trucks of a certain size — Class 8 to Class 13.  However, that doesn’t have Rhode Islands worried that in the event of revenue shortfalls, that the classifications could be expanded. 

    Even if the Governor and General Assembly assured Rhode Islands that would never happen, there might be some discussion - and debate - around ensuring that’s the case.  Raimondo worked to increase the cigarette tax (already the third highest in the country) this past session.  The state’s revenue from gambling will continued to take a hit as competition from Massachusetts ramps up.  Could — or should — a stipulation be put in any legislation that if the toll plan is to be expanded, it would need to go before voters?
     

     
  • 7.

    Do recent projection shortfalls (Medicaid and rental tax)) call into questions revenue projections?


    Raimondo had anticipated saving just over $70 million in Medicaid reform in this year’s budget, but the state’s Office of Health and Human Services said the number they were looking was almost two million short of that mark, and the the state’s revenue and caseload estimating conference pegged gap as even higher, as first reported by the Providence Journal. 

    Most recently, WPRI noted that the rental home tax the Governor had touted fell $1 million short of expectations in the first month alone.  The administration is depending on a revenue stream of $60 million year, which leads us to our next question. 

     
  • 8.

    What happens if the state doesn't meet the revenue?

     
    The projections put forth from the administration show that the state expects to collect $60 million a year from the tolls to pay for a thirty revenue bond.  This was after the administration shifted gears from a 15 year, $700 million bond that was depended on $100 million in revenue a year.  

    The Republican Policy Group recently held a press conference on “missing inconvenient information,” at which is asserted that “half of the proposed tolls or $30 million comes from pass-through truckers, while the remaining half is paid by three sources: local trucks delivering out-of-state, instate/out-of-state trucks delivering in Rhode Island. 

    However, the impact study projects only $12.79 million in additional cost from inbound traffic and $5 million from all local and outbound traffic. The figures don't add up. Approximately, $12 million in annual toll revenue is unaccounted for.”

    Does it create a 38 Studios issue?

     
  • 9.

    What happens if trucks go around?

     
    RI Trucking Association spokesperson Bill Fischer has questioned repeatedly what would happen if the trucks simply bypass the state.  

    “We’d be on the hook for these bonds,” said Fischer. "We're saying charge us more in fees, focus on the diesel tax. We're worried about what no one has talked about, and that's evasion.  It's a big deal because you don't need to go through Rhode Island to drive from New York to Boston. We still have to make the bond payments.  These guys have computer programs that incorporate the fees and tolls.

    The burden is being placed on the local guys." The Republican Policy Group has questioned whether diversion had been thoroughly vetted, as well. “Did the report account for diversion through Connecticut to avoid tolls as it relates to IFTA fees? Currently, truckers remit IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement) taxes to each state based on miles traveled. When they divert to avoid tolls, our state will lose these taxes.  What is the corresponding loss in revenue? 
     

     
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