Updates on States to Watch on Transportation Funding: Rhode Island Turns to Truck Tolls to Fund Bridge Repairs

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo last week signed legislation to fund a multi-year bridge repair program with a new toll on large commercial trucks and a combination of borrowing and refinancing. Rhode Island, which ranks 50th out of 50 states in overall bridge conditions, has been one of the only northeast states that does not charge  commercial trucks a user fee. There is also a variety of other tolling-related news from around the country as well as updates on the states to watch on transportation funding this year. Plus details on how you can join us for next week’s CSG eCademy webinar on the subject.

Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks

The legislation signed by Raimondo and dubbed RhodeWorks is a different version of the financing plan she originally proposed last spring. The new truck toll is projected to yield $45 million annually once the state begins to collect it in late 2017 or 2018, WPRI.com reported. In addition the state plans to borrow $300 million against future federal highway funding and refinance old borrowing to yield an additional $120 million. It’s all expected to add up to a net total of $543 million in new revenue between 2016 and 2020.

With the additional funds, the state expects to fix more than 150 structurally deficient bridges and make repairs to another 500 bridges that could otherwise become deficient. (By the way, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association has just issued its 2016 Structurally Deficient Bridges report based on the Federal Highway Administration’s 2015 National Bridge Inventory Data).

The passage by Congress last fall of a new five-year federal surface transportation bill, the FAST Act, allowed Rhode Island lawmakers to reduce the amount of truck toll revenues in the package from $100 million in Raimondo’s original proposal. Nevertheless, trucking groups have continued to oppose the plan saying it unfairly singles out their industry, Land Line magazine reported. A legal challenge could lie ahead.

But that might not be the only roadblock the plan might face. The Warwick Beacon reported that the Federal Highway Administration has not yet officially given its blessing to the plan and a memorandum of understanding will be required between FHWA and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation before the tolling plans can be set in motion.

More Tolling News

  • Indiana: A road funding bill (House Bill 1001) passed by the House and stalled in the Senate (see below) would require the state department of transportation to seek a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration to toll lanes on Interstates 65, 70, and 80/94 and to conduct a feasibility study of tolling on those interstates. In passing the FAST Act last year, Congress put in a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision for states seeking an exception to the federal law banning tolling on existing interstates. Indiana officials hope to step in if any of three states currently granted an exception isn’t able to move forward with their interstate toll projects.
  • Kentucky: Gov. Matt Bevin said this week he supports legislation (HB309) that would ban tolls for the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project in northern Kentucky, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The bill would also allow the state to enter into public-private partnerships to help finance other transportation projects.
  • Texas: While Rhode Island and other states are looking at ramping up tolling, the Lone Star State could be headed in the opposite direction. The El Paso Times reported that the Texas Department of Transportation is beginning a study mandated by the legislature of what it would cost to eliminate toll roads in the state.
  • West Virginia: The state Senate is poised to take up legislation that would allow the state to keep tolls in place on the West Virginia Turnpike, which The (Beckley) Register-Herald newspaper editorialized in favor of.
  • National: In a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office said mechanisms like tolling, mileage fees or congestion pricing could be a better way than the gas tax to ensure that spending on highways corresponds with how the nation’s roads are used and valued.

Updates on States to Watch in 2016: Transportation Funding

  • Colorado: Gas or sales tax increases, bonding and other options could be on the table this year in Colorado, a state that currently spends half of its $1.28 billion transportation budget annually just to maintain existing roads, leaving little room for expansion projects to serve a booming population, The Denver Post reported last month.
  • Connecticut: The CT Post last month reported on a long-awaited report from a panel appointed by Gov. Dannel Malloy to come up with transportation funding ideas to support the governor’s ambitious 30-year transportation plan. The report, which proposed tolls on state highways and increases to gas taxes and fees, didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome from some state legislators. The Hartford Courant also delved into the details of the report.
  • Delaware: Representatives Sean Matthews and Michael Mulrooney are proposing a 10 cents-a-gallon gas tax increase that would expire after a year, which would allow lawmakers to take stock of where oil prices stand and decide whether to renew it, The News Journal reported. The lawmakers say the measure would raise more than $50 million a year and help the state make critical improvements to roads and bridges.
  • Hawaii: The Senate Committee on Transportation and Energy has passed a bill (SB 2938) that would raise the state’s gas tax from 16 cents to 19 cents per gallon and increase the state’s vehicle registration fees and weight taxes, Pacific Business News reported.
  • Indiana: As mentioned above, the House this month approved a road funding bill that would pay for road maintenance by increasing the gas tax four cents a gallon and shifting all sales taxes on fuel to roads, WBAA reported. But the measure has stalled in the state Senate, according to WISH TV, due to a disagreement with Gov. Mike Pence, who has pledged to oppose any tax increase and who wants more funding for economic development in his Regional Cities plan (which is stalled in the House).
  • Kentucky: State transportation officials say low gas prices are continuing to put a dent in Kentucky’s road fund and making it difficult to cover highway projects the state has underway, WLWT reported. Kentucky’s gas tax is tied to the wholesale price of fuel and despite an effort last year by lawmakers to prevent deeper revenue declines by installing a minimum gas tax rate of 26 cents-per-gallon, the funding challenges remain, prompting some legislators to say additional revenues are needed.
  • Mississippi: Following a presentation by Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Melinda McGrath this week during which she said the state needs $526 million a year more to bring infrastructure up to a satisfactory level over the next 10 to 15 years, some lawmakers are now saying the time may be right to consider a gas tax increase or other revenue measures since gas prices remain low, The Clarion-Ledger reported.
  • Missouri: Transportation funding plans under consideration in Jefferson City include a Senate committee-approved measure supported by Gov. Jay Nixon to raise the state’s 17 cents-per-gallon gas tax by 1.5 cents and a competing plan pitched by Republican leaders that would divert general revenue to road funding, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
  • Nebraska: Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Jim Smith announced last month that the creation of a transportation infrastructure bank in the state would be one of the top legislative initiatives for the 2016 session (it since has been introduced as LB960). However, there is disagreement in the legislature over how to fund it, The Omaha World-Herald reported. The Lincoln Journal Star detailed this week’s hearing on the measure.
  • New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed 2017 budget doesn’t include a plan to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is expected to run dry on July 1, The Daily Journal reported. Christie, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month, has said he’ll oppose efforts to increase the gas tax in New Jersey.
  • South Carolina: Republican State Sen. Tom Davis is filibustering a plan to raise the state gas tax by 4 cents a year for three years and raise fees, while also cutting state income taxes and property taxes for small businesses, WSPA reported. Davis, who filibustered a roads plan last year as well, says a tax hike isn’t needed because the state has a $1.3 billion surplus, including $750 million in biennially recurring funds. He also believes restructuring is needed at the state department of transportation commission and the state’s infrastructure bank. Government Technology reported last week on concerns about the infrastructure bank.
  • National: The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy is out with its latest report on how long it’s been since the last gas tax increase in every state. 

CSG eCademy Webcast: States to Watch in 2016: Transportation Funding

For more details on the states looking at transportation funding this year, be sure to join us next Tuesday at 2pm EST for our FREE CSG eCademy Webcast: States to Watch in 2016: Transportation Funding. We’ll hear about state funding trends around the country from Alison Premo Black of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and Joe McAndrew of Transportation for America. We’ll get the trucking industry’s perspective on truck tolls in Rhode Island and elsewhere from Keith Goble of Land Line magazine. And we’ll get up-to-the-minute reports on transportation funding activities from reporters in Colorado, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Register now to join us.