Hearings focus on environmental impacts of truck toll gantries

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To fulfill the requirements of the law, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) will host public sessions regarding its recently released Environmental Assessment (EA) for 10 new toll gantry locations across Rhode Island.

On July 27 at 6 p.m., comment sessions will be held at Toll Gate High School, Mount Pleasant High School, and Central Falls High School. The Department of Transportation will solicit public comments on the Environment Assessment document publicly released on July 12th, which details plans to construct ten new toll gantries in Warwick, Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, Johnston, Cumberland, East Providence, Lincoln, and North Smithfield.

These new tolls will be known as Tolls 3, 4 and 6 through 13, and will be erected on I-95, I-195, I-295, US Route 6, and RI Route 146. The new gantries will toll only large trucks.

On July 12, the EA was published to RIDOT’s official website, www.dot.ri.gov, as well as displayed in public venues in libraries and town halls in close proximity to the proposed tolling locations. A total of 29 towns had the EA displayed in public buildings, located in both Rhode Island and in Massachusetts. Making the EA available to the public and arranging for comments to be conveyed is required by law.

The comments and concerns presented at the comment periods will be incorporated into the EA after the hearings have been conducted. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will then examine the comments and determine if public concerns are valid enough to require an Environmental Impact Statement to be published. Alternatively, if no drastic impacts to the environment are acknowledged after the public comments have been examined, the report will instead note that no significant impact has been found.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in the interest of enhancing the quality of the environment, requires by law for an Environmental Assessment to be produced and provided for public observation and review whenever a large-scale construction project, such as constructing the gantries, is planned.

RIDOT’s EA document provides a breakdown of the how the construction of the gantries would impact local environments, and a detailed description of the consequences of such a project. Discussed in the EA are potential changes in air quality, noise and vibrations, availability of farmland and groundwater resources, and the survival of surrounding wildlife, all of which could be influenced by the construction of the new toll gantries. These potential impacts will be the topic of discussion during the comment period, where citizens can offer their perspectives on how they feel the gantries will affect the environment.

Lisbeth Pettengill, Director of Communications at RIDOT, reports that the Department plans to have the gantries installed over a period of 18 months. The gantries are planned to have completed their construction by the end of 2019.

There are currently two gantries in place; they are both located on I-95 and began collecting tolls for large trucks in June.

The gantries planned for construction will run independently of one another. Each gantry is intended to assist with the reconstruction or renovation of an individual bridge. The toll charged by each gantry will vary depending on the toll location; the fees will range from $2 to $9.50. The median fee will be $3.50, with a daily cap of $40 regardless of how many tolls a truck passes through. Tolls were determined based on the state’s financial needs for bridge repairs.

According to Pettengill, the gantry project is part of RhodeWorks, an infrastructure repair plan initiated in 2016 that plans to repair Rhode Island’s bridges. As Rhode Island ranks last in the nation when it comes to the quality of bridge conditions, improving the quality of the state’s bridges is viewed as imperative by RIDOT.

However, the new tolls have been the subject of controversy among trucking associations at both the state and national level.

On July 10th, 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Peter Alviti, the Director of RIDOT, by the American Trucking Association. Alongside Cumberland Farms, M&M Transport Services, and New England Motor Freight, the American Trucking Association will attempt to prove in a Federal Court that the tolls are unconstitutional, and will seek to declare an injunction against any future enforcement of the toll system in the future.

Christopher Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, explained the issues and complaints that served as the motivation behind the recent lawsuit. In a recent interview, he said that many trucking companies no longer feel welcome in Rhode Island and are reassessing their routes in order to avoid the state entirely.

He states that the perspective posed by trucking companies is more “humble and realistic” than that of RIDOT’s, and that he is confident that the constitution is on the side of truckers and their companies.

Maxwell also explained that trucking institutions no longer have an “appetite for compromise.” When their complaints were brought before RIDOT in the past, Maxwell says that they were marginalized and “laughed at” by officials.

“It doesn’t matter if they make ten times the revenue that’s projected; it’s still irrelevant to the legality of the tolls,” Maxwell said.

The new tolls have been accused of discriminating against large trucks, who would be the only vehicles subjected to the new toll fees once the gantries are implemented.

According to data provided by RIDOT, the majority of structural damage done to bridges by vehicles is inflicted by large commercial trucks. Rhode Island is currently one of the only states in the northeast that does not charge user fees to large trucks, according to the RIDOT. The decision reached by RIDOT was to begin charging large trucks in order to fund the repairs they necessitate. Existing legislation expressly prohibits charging fees for cars and smaller trucks.

The money gathered in fees at each toll will be used to fund repairs for the individual bridge associated with the toll. The budget for the RhodeWorks project, approximately $4.9 billion, will be 10 percent funded through the tolling program.

Kapsch TrafficCom will construct and maintain the electronic tolls for a period of ten years. Tolls are able to be paid with credit cards and cash, while E-Z Pass users can be billed through their pass. A thirty-day grace period is allotted for drivers to pay their fine, either online through www.ezpassritba.com/ridot, by mail, or at a RIBTA customer service center. Failure to pay the fine within the allotted time constitutes a violation. All fees are collected by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Association.

Comments posed regarding the EA will be considered by RIDOT until August 11.

Comments

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Justanidiot

once day are in place, just wait a year or two for cars to be tolled too. the general assembly can hardly wait to get there hands on that pile of money.

Tuesday, July 24
TheSkipper

Once a person knows where they are? The only ones who'll be paying them is truckers who've never been in RI before.

Tuesday, July 24
richardcorrente

I am very much against truck tolls. I fear that this will end up in court as alleged "discriminating against trucks" and the "solution" will be to have tolls for everybody. As if R.I. "had no choice". Then the money will go into the general fund as another form of taxes. I just don't believe that the money will be spent on "repairs of our bridges", as it is being sold to the voters that way. Does anyone? Was the money from the Lottery spent on education? It was sold to the voters that way.

Was the 1% sales tax "temporary"? It was sold to the voters that way.

Was the state income tax "temporary"? It was sold to the voters that way.

Our state keeps losing citizens because we keep raising taxes. The only way to reverse that trend is to "Cut Taxes - Cut Spending". The result will increase taxpayers, which will increase Total Tax Revenue (TTR).

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, July 26
Scal1024

Rick, how are we increasing Total Tax Revenue with your "buy a house get a check" program? Property taxes are collected on properties regardless of whether it has sold or not. When you say "buy a house, get a check" how is that program adding to the cities Total Tax Revenue? The city already collects those taxes. Your plan basically calls for writing a check to new homebuyers for taxes the city already collects. This speaks to how little AFTER 4 YEARS OF RUNNING Rick Corrente understands about budgets, taxes and our schools. Imagine a candidate for Mayor being so uninformed about basic functions of government. Not to mention after 4 years he can't even tell voters how he'll pay for this rebate program.

This is just another example of how the "Corrente plans" is nothing more than a bunch of talking points, pretending to be ideas. After 4 years this is the best Rick Corrente can do? When will he give voters specifics? Such as where the money comes from? I'm sure he'll run and hide under another article like the lying, tax delinquent, coward he is.

Thursday, July 26
CrickeeRaven

Scal, the make-believe mayor wants to talk history -- so let's talk about his.

He supported the Warwick City Council's FY18 budget decisions, which included a tax rate that stayed the same [meaning it was not cut], spending that went up by $6.5 million [meaning it was not cut], and an unrealistic 99-percent tax collection rate.

In fact, as I'm sure you recall, he claimed that his losing 2016 campaign influenced these decisions by the city council.

Over the last several weeks, he has done everything he can to keep claiming credit for the FY18 budget despite the fact that it led directly to the FY19 budget's maximum-allowed tax increase.

When he talks about how things are "sold to the voters," he is completely oblivious [willingly so] to how poorly he has sold his own candidacy -- and as you correctly note, he's been at this for four years and done nothing but regurgitate his pathetic slogans.

And that's in addition to the fallacies that he is still desperately trying to peddle on this website, that cutting taxes and giving away city funds will increase revenue.

Thanks for showing readers that the make-believe mayor has as much understanding of state issues as he does of city issues: None.

Thursday, July 26
richardcorrente

Dear Scal1024,

If we offer REBATE CHECKS to anyone who moves into Warwick and buys a home OR starts a business we create demand for Warwick. That makes sense, doesn't it Scal? New renovations a new homebuyer adds to their new real estate will also add to Total Tax Revenue (TTR). Demand will also result in new houses and condominiums being built as well. New businesses add (a lot) to tangible taxes and attracts new taxpayers to Warwick. Demand will also help resell some of our many abandoned properties, adding the new, improved home to our tax rolls. If Warwick increases its population as a result, our schools will have more students. More purchases will be made from our existing merchants. More services will be contracted for and our economy in general will benefit. We need to promote Warwick to the rest of Rhode Island in order to repopulate our number of taxpayers. Warwick recently dropped from the number two most populated city, to number three. We are headed in the wrong direction. REBATE CHEKS will help reverse that.

The other plan I have Scal1024, that is in that same category, is A TWO YEAR MORITORIUM ON BUILDING PERMIT FEES. I proposed this about three years ago when Warwick was sued by the R.I. Builders Assoc. for $50,000 for overcharging on building permits and Mayor Avedisian decided to reduce building permit fees "by one percent to stimulate construction". Obviously a 1% "sale" on building permits didn't stimulate anything. I propose that we eliminate building permit fees for 2 years to encourage homeowners to build that addition or garage they always wanted. The fee elimination could be restricted to just renovations that increase property values. (and real estate taxes) The additional value would bring back many times the money Warwick lost and the new tax revenue would be forever! Wouldn't that be a win-win Scal?

Both of these ideas are found in "The Corrente Plan" at "correnteformayor.com". I haven't seen or heard of any other candidate having any plan at all, but Scal, if you want further clarification on this or any other part of my plan, please don't hesitate to ask. Just please don't lie about me. It's hard to read you lie about me calling me a "lying, tax delinquent coward" when you won't even tell the readers your real name.

Fake news. Fake sources. Fake people. Fake names.

Happy Summer Scal1024,

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, July 27
CrickeeRaven

So, Scal, we again see that the make-believe mayor's only reply to the factual, easily verifiable information about his tax delinquency is complaining that you use a screen name.

That, and repeating his delusional plans for giveaways that will only reduce revenue to the city, creating an even bigger hole in the budget. His party's 9-0 city council already created a $4.2 million deficit in FY18 (a budget he repeatedly supported while lying about how it was passed), and now he proposes giving more money away with no concrete plan of how to fund it.

Saying "new taxpayers will pay for it" is an empty slogan with no basis is fact, as you correctly point out.

The fake stories made up by the candidate using a fake title will result in a real and humiliating loss for him on Sept. 12.

Saturday, July 28