The annual bad bridge reportcard came out this month listing each state's worst bridges. This year, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country at 23 percent.
Estimating that trucks cause 70 percent of the damage to RI's state roads each year but contribute only 20 percent of the revenue towards the state's infrastructure, RI's lawmakers worked out a plan for a trucks-only toll system on major bridges statewide that will fund both new bridges and existing roadways.
Rhode Island removed its tolls in 1983 after a deadly toll plaza crash and federal law prevents states from tolling existing interstates without adding new capacity - with an interesting exception:
States can put tolls on non-tolled bridges if they replace or repair the bridge.
By leveraging the trucks-only tolls, RI plans to build several new projects such as the completion of a $170 million replacement of the viaduct carrying I-95 through Providence and rebuilding an interchange of two major highways on Providence's west side which includes replacing 11 bridges - and adding tolls.
Governor Gina Raimondo signed off on the plan despite opposition from truckers. The new law authorizes tolls of up to $20 on large commercial trucks traveling on Interstate 95. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) anticipates that once it starts collecting tolls over the next two years, they'll raise $45 million a year -- a 10 percent increase to the agency's budget. That money, the state says, combined with $425 million in bonding, will pay for repairs or replacement of 650 bridges in the next 10 years.
So far, Rhode Island is the only state using this unique funding approach. Germany and Switzerland have nationwide truck tolls.
As road repair continues to stress state budgets, this 'build a bridge, build a highway' business tax model bears watching.
The American Trucking Association warned Raimondo that her administration's plan to prevent trucks from leaving highways to avoid tolls could run afoul of federal regulations. Those rules require states to let trucks have easy access to food, fuel, repairs and rest, an association lawyer wrote. Trucking groups suggested instead the state raise its diesel tax and registration fees.