The littlest state has big toll plans for I-95

rhode-island-sign.jpgThe state of Rhode Island has formally asked the Federal Highway Administration for the right to toll Interstate 95 near the Connecticut border, according to the Providence Journal.

The idea is to use the money to help pay for repairs to I-95 in Providence, as well as expanding a connector road with I-95 and Route 4 that funnels traffic into the Quonset Business Park area in North Kingstown. The state estimates those two projects at $205 million. Additional revenue would be used to pay for general highway repair in the state.

The announcement of the formal application drew harsh criticism from local legislators, including Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton), who said the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) was merely trying to pay for road work in other parts of the state on the backs of residents in his district.

“I fail to see how singling out the people of southwestern Rhode Island to cover the costs of these road and bridge repairs is a fair solution,” Kennedy wrote in a letter to Michael P Lewis, director of RIDOT, according to the Journal.

The state estimates the tolls would produce approximately $40 million in yearly revenue, even though it admitted that it has yet to determine what the toll costs would be. Lewis told the Journal the tolls would likely be similar to those to cross the Pell Bridge connecting Newport and Jamestown. Those tolls are $2 per axle with discounts for residents.

The tollbooths would be installed between exits 1 and 2 on both sides of the highway, RIDOT said.

And because the state is, of course, looking out for the best interests of everyone, Lewis said tolling the northern part of the state’s main thoroughfare was not feasible because “There would be too many alternatives for traffic to divert off [the highway].”

Having grown up in Rhode Island myself, there is an old belief that in Rhode Island, if a car from Rhode Island is traveling at 85 mph on the highway and an out-of-state car is going 70 mph, the police would pull over the out-of-state vehicle.

The section of I-95 the state wants to toll is primarily used by out-of-state residents and truckers passing through the state on their way to Boston and other points north. With no other options to get through Rhode Island quickly, at least in the minds of the state’s leaders – all of whom seem to support the proposal – there is no better way to generate additional revenue than to “tax” non-residents just passing through.

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