Toll me: Rhode Island gets it done

While Connecticut dithers on the topic of tolls, Rhode Island is putting the accelerator to the floor.  

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a toll-funded highway infrastructure repair bill into law Thursday, immediately after the final legislative gavel came down on the controversial deal.

The program, which will deploy an array of electronic toll collecting gates aimed at truckers, is part of a 10-year, $4.7 billion highway infrastructure plan for Rhode Island.

The governor rallied support for the toll bill against strong Republican opposition in the legislature.

Horn-blaring truckers circled the capitol as legislators debated.

But Gov. Raimondo prevailed, arguing that repairing the state's crumbling highway system, considered some of the worst roads and bridges in the nation, was necessary to move the state into the future.

Maybe Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy should pay a call on the Rhode Island governor, to see how it's done.  

The new Rhode Island tolls on truckers, not expected to be operating until next year, should be straightforward and not disruptive to traffic.

The state will erect gateways, known as gantries, that will collect tolls electronically. The closest one to eastern Connecticut will be on Interstate 95 in Hopkinton.

There will be 14 in all in the state. A trip across state is expected to cost $20 for trucks.

Gov. Raimondo says the tolling cap — $40 a day to go across the state and back — is less than other states in the area charge.

The loudest opposition in Rhode Island came from state truckers, especially the Rhode-Island-based Ocean State Job Lot stores, which put a new construction project on hold because of the measure, corporate bluster, which Raimondo bravely ignored.

Certainly a large share of the new revenue will come from truckers passing through Rhode Island on their way to and from somewhere else.

They are heavy travelers on Rhode Island roads, contributing to the wear of the roads, and charging them a user fee seems fair and appropriate.

Some critics of the plan said these out-of-state truckers will simply detour around Rhode Island.

Fine. Let them.

As Connecticut lawmakers wring their hands over starting and financing transportation improvements, they ought to look east at Rhode Island's excellent example.

It would probably be a good idea for Connecticut to put some toll revenue in place before even embarking on expensive and dubious road-widening projects.

There is some expert testimony to suggest that widening I-95 might only increase traffic, drawing in users who are now discouraged by the congestion.

Why not start out with congestion tolling? Charge for the use of I-95 and price it to encourage travel in nonpeak hours. Spend some of the revenue on improving mass transit.

Since no one wants to widen or change the landmark Merritt Parkway through Fairfield County, why not slap on a big toll and charge people for the privilege of using a beautiful, less-congested highway.

A lot of people in Fairfield County would pay dearly for that privilege. Through-state traffic would pay, too.

You could buy a nice meal in a restaurant for what Delaware charges to cross briefly across its narrow landscape.

Republicans complain about tolls as if they are taxes.

But, of course, they are not. They are user fees, eminently fair because the revenue for highway work comes, logically, from the people who benefit from it.

Gov. Malloy and Connecticut Democrats have proven themselves more than capable of raising taxes.

Why not get to work on a plan for new user fees that would make new taxes less necessary?

New technology makes the execution easy.

All it takes is a little political fortitude.

Just ask Gov. Raimondo.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

Twitter:DavidCollinsct

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