Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Any truck-only toll in Rhode Island would be devastating

If Rhode Island officials think they can simply wave a magic wand and toll trucks to pay for everyone else’s transportation needs, they are severely underestimating the fight they’re going to have on their hands.

Truckers have already demonstrated their outrage over Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed truck-only “user fee” to pay for $1.1 billion in transportation upgrades. And once other people get wind of how devastating these tolls will be, they will be outraged, too.

Have you heard the way the governor talks about trucks? According to her, trucks are cash cows that can simply dig deeper to supply the rest of the state with cash for transportation needs, as if it’s no big deal. When asked by local media if she would consider raising the gas tax instead, she said no, that tolls on trucks were a “reasonable, fair, sustainable” way of moving forward.

We hate to break it to the governor – actually, we are OK breaking this to her – but tolls on trucks would have the opposite effect.

I was discussing this with Ryan Bowley of OOIDA’s Washington, D.C., office, and he sums this up rather well.

“This isn’t a tax or a toll on trucking. This isn’t a tax or a toll on freight. This is a tax and a toll on each and every good shipped into the state of Rhode Island by truck,” he said. “According to the Federal Highway Administration’s latest numbers from 2012, there was more than $17 billion worth of freight hauled to Rhode Island from other states.”

Those numbers say a lot, don’t they? They certainly speak volumes about the value of trucks and trucking to a small, coastal port state.

If the roads are so bad, why hasn’t Rhode Island asked the federal government for help through the discretionary grant program known as TIGER? Again, the numbers don’t lie. Rhode Island has only applied for one or two highway-related grants through the federal TIGER program since 2012, yet they love to play off of the stats that show their roads and bridges rank 50th out of the 50 states.

They did apply for $10 million in 2012 to help with the I-95 corridor in Providence, and that’s a good thing. But by and large, Rhode Island’s TIGER grant applications have been for a $13 million streetcar and other projects, not roads.

And yet they are asking truckers to pay more than they already do through apportionment, the Heavy-Vehicle Use Tax, IFTA, tire taxes and the 12 percent excise tax on new trucking equipment.

The governor touts the “RhodeWorks” truck-only toll plan as a job creator, but from where we sit, this proposal stands to be a job killer for Rhode Island and the nation. You know what creates and sustains jobs? Allowing truckers and others in the supply chain to operate without throwing up roadblocks in the form of toll gantries.

Bowley also sums this one up rather well.

“States around the country have touted the job-creating benefits of new distribution centers and other freight-related projects, yet this toll on trucks that Rhode Island is proposing is nothing but a job-killing proposal,” he said. “What distributor, what shipper, what receiver, what trucking company or small business is going to locate to Rhode Island with a toll plan like this on the table?”

It’s a great question and one the governor needs to consider.