US trucking industry leader calls RI tolls ‘extortion

The head of the American Trucking Association (ATA) has lobbed a new grenade at Gov. Gina Raimondo’s truck-toll law, describing it as an unacceptable effort to force his industry to underwrite the cost of repairing Rhode Island bridges, according to a WPRI television report.

“We don’t know if this program is legal, but it is bad policy and an extortion of our industry,” ATA President Chris Spear said during a visit to Rhode Island where he met with Rhode Island Trucking Association members and other business people, according to a statement.

Spear also delivered a clear political threat to Raimondo and her allies in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, which approved her $4.7-billion RhodeWorks infrastructure-funding plan in February. The law calls for collecting $45 million a year in tolls from large trucks starting by 2018.

“Our leaders in Washington are not representing us effectively and our local leaders are following suit with flawed policies,” Spear said. “Where these policies adversely affect our industry, we will band together and fight to win.”

He continued: “Regardless of that outcome, we will punish those people who target our industry as rolling ATMs and make examples of them as a clear message to others who attempt to do the same.”

Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger dismissed Spear’s comments as self-interested.

“Of course the Trucking Association has a vested interest in continuing to attack RhodeWorks: their own bottom line,” Aberger said. “It’s no surprise they still prefer to keep getting a free ride in Rhode Island, while causing most of the damage to our roads and bridges – even though they already pay tolls in nearly every other state from Maryland to Maine.”

R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti told earlier this month it will be at least another year before trucks start having to pay tolls on up to 14 bridges around the state. The agency is currently in the process of conducting research, working on environmental reviews and negotiating an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration to lay the groundwork for tolling.

Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said Spear’s visit buoyed him as his group continues to wage a fight against truck tolls. He said it was made clear to him that ATA will “devote whatever resources necessary” to stop the policy.

“Unlike similar issues in the past that they have been allowed to bury, truck-tolling unjustly targets a powerful industry that stands outside the fray of Rhode Island’s cronyism and special interests,” Maxwell said. “While this does not bode well for our state’s recovery, it should give our citizens much-needed hope.”

No legal challenges to the toll law have been filed yet, according to Maxwell.

Aberger said Raimondo supports tolling as the best option for funding badly needed road and bridge repairs without raising the gas tax or tapping another broad-based source of revenue.

“The governor’s focus is keeping people safe, putting people back to work, and rebuilding our infrastructure in a way that doesn’t just put the burden on every Rhode Island family,” Aberger said. “RhodeWorks does exactly that.”