Greater City Providence

ProJo: RI transportation officials shelve plans to install tolls on Route 95

State transportation officials have suspended plans to install tolls on Route 95 by the Connecticut border.

State Transportation Director Michael P. Lewis told The Journal state officials are not scrapping the project but recognizing that the federal government would not approve the project now.

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  • Good – as I’d drive out of my way to avoid said toll. I mean, you can get off on Route 1 and just bypass.

    And in every state where there’s a toll – you see the effects at least 10 miles out as traffic grinds to a halt though the effect of this is less pronounced since widescale embrace of EZ Pass.

  • I’m only relieved because they were proposing to go about it in the most idiotic way possible. 100% electronic toll collection technology has been used for over a decade in this country, yet rather than use electronic collection at the points where funds would benefit drivers there (say, downtown and near Route 4), they wanted to install toll booths at an arbitrary point near the Connecticut border.

    Typical lack of innovation by RIDOT.

  • Chris O’Leary: Incidentally, I remember reading two important facts about the pilot program under which new Interstate tolls will be implimented.

    Fact #1) Tolling a border crossing is explicitly illegal and you cannot implement new border tolls (existing border tolls are grandfathered in)
    Fact #2) One of the stipulations for approval under the pilot program was an all-electronic toll collection method.

    Well, Rhode Island thought they could get around Fact #1 by moving their toll plaza up from the border and in between Exits 1 and 2 instead. (They may have also been planning on tolling Exit 2 itself – not Exit 1, which was protected under an extension of the ‘no tolled crossings’ stipulation.)

    Now, if you go check out southern RI on google maps, you’ll find something pretty interesting: Route 3, which you can take exit 1 to get on, parallels I-95 for quite some ways… it is, in fact, also more or less an ‘at freeway speed’ road. Trivial matter requiring zero thought to pull off the road at Exit 1 and get back on at Exit 3A/B. Hell, even if they’d gotten the restriction to toll the crossing itself waived – both exits 92 and 93 in CT offer convenient, straightforward ways of driving around the toll and back onto 95, again at Exit 3A/B.

    They not only showed a stunning lack of innovation, they picked what might have been the worst possible spot to place a toll – a placement so stupid I would swear it was actively malicious if I didn’t know any better.

    But of course, the real reason you’ll never see any tolls where they would be effective revenue-grabbers (95/4, 95/295, 95/10, 95/195, 95/6 junctions) is because all of those locations are too well trafficked by people who it is much harder to ignore than those backwater idiots of South County.

  • well, it is easy to oppose tolls, but RI roads/bridges already suffer from deferred maintenance and its resulting long-run higher costs. Governor Carcieri appointed a panel (no transit folks, enviros) that concluded we need to double spending in the next 10 years to bring it to good condition, but Governor Carcieri backed off from doing anything about it. Gov Chafee has taken steps to reduce debt service, but there is still a huge backlog. If not tolls, then what? Toll opponents generally offer no alternative. Keep inadequate conditions? Can’t raise the gas tax much, if at all, due to lost sales at the MA border. We’re not ready for a vehicle-miles fee which would be hard to implement anyway just in a small state.

    I agree the politics of putting tolls on I-95 in the metro area or on I-195 where we spent a fortune, would be politically impossible which is why RIDOT went for the exit 2 area. But tolls are likely, not in South County, but on the new Sakonnet bridge. But this will do little more than pay for maintenance of the Aquidneck bridges.

    Perhaps we could have gotten Fed permission for tolls if we had worked with CT to put tolls near the border where there is no easy parallel Route 3 and share the revenue. Remember there are tolls on I-95 in NH, NY, NJ, DE, MD, VA that folks in RI and CT sometimes pay to help those states, but its not the other way around.

  • Barry, even if we’d gotten Fed Permission to toll the State Line itself, plus Exit 93 in CT and Exit 1 in Rhode Island – avoiding those tolls would still be horrendously easy. The only real way to ensure compliance would be to toll Exits 92, 93, and 1 through 6A – creating a swath of road too large to really avoid and forcing vehicles to contend with slow moving roads on at least one end of their journey.

    So, at least two toll plazas and having to reconfigure 9~12 interchanges for tolled on/off ramps, just to make sure the majority of people pay their toll.

    Sorry, but my alternative is tolling the I-Way. It’s extremely unobtrusive for locals, but nearly impossible for any distance travelers to avoid. Providence is just going to have to live with it.

  • Another cooperative toll effort could be between RI and MA. Tolls could be installed on the MA side to 95 and the RI side of 295. Also, 195 in Seekonk. The two states could split the revenue. Though there would be a similar cheating potential like Route 3 near CT with US 1 between Attleboro and Pawtucket and US 6 between Seekonk and East Providence.

    NH, NY, NJ, DE, MD, and VA had state roads that later became part of the interstate system, which grandfathered their tolling rights. CT had a similar situation with 95 before they removed the Connecticut Turnpike toll booths.

    Proposing tolls flies in the face of the 1950s mythology that most Americans have bought into and Rhode Islanders have in spades that the gas tax pays for the road system and that it’s American’s divine right to use highways for free.

  • “Proposing tolls flies in the face of the 1950s mythology that most Americans have bought into and Rhode Islanders have in spades that the gas tax pays for the road system and that it’s American’s divine right to use highways for free.”

    I’m not sure where you’re trying to go with this, Peter, to be perfectly honest. Are you suggesting that we should do away with the gas tax and go full toll collection instead, or are you just saying ‘we need to supplement the gas tax somehow because it’s no longer sufficient to pay for the roads?’

  • The gas tax is inadequate. With the advent of hybrid and electric cars, it’s no longer even possible for the gas tax to fairly finance road infrastructure, even with a substantial increase. The gas tax can’t realistically be increased that much because of neighboring state competition. Vehicle miles driven would penalize in-state drivers as out-of-state drivers would contribute nothing to the maintenance of roads that they use when they travel through the state. The fairest though probably least favored option would be tolls. It wouldn’t matter if drivers were from in- or out-of-state, or drove an internal combustion engine or an electric. Tractor-trailers or other large commercial vehicles would pay more due to their additional weight that stresses road infrastructure. People have to pay for plane and train tickets and bus fares. What’s wrong with paying for the road that you use, unless it breaks a promise made over 50-years ago that highway travel would be free.

  • “What’s wrong with paying for the road that you use, unless it breaks a promise made over 50-years ago that highway travel would be free.”

    I agree with you that we need tolls, and that the gas tax is an inadequate method of paying for the roads.

    I’m simply demanding that the I-Way be tolled instead of OR in addition to the CT border, and I’m demanding that because there is something glaringly wrong with tolling South County to pay for Providence’s infrastructure.

    Not to mention, we don’t have to cut a deal or share the revenue on any I-Way tolls.

  • IMO, the either state should be tolled, but considering people drive from South County to Providence, I think it’s pretty fair. Not to mention the large number of people who drive to South County for the beaches… it’s a state-wide issue, not just a Providence issue.

  • “Not to mention the large number of people who drive to South County for the beaches… it’s a state-wide issue, not just a Providence issue.”

    If you want to toll beach traffic, you drop tolls on the 95/4 junction.
    If you want to toll people driving into Providence, you toll the 6/10 Connector, or the I-Way, or both.
    If you just want to force a toll in anywhere, you toll South County, because there’s less people to contend with down there.

    I agree with you, it’s a state-wide issue. So, the entire state is going to need to be tolled. Providence is a great place to start because it really is the center of our state – and the beneficiary of most of the vital infrastructure projects that the toll revenue would go on to pay for. The I-Way and the Providence Viaduct, specifically, are two big projects I can think of that could have been (should have been) tolled, because my philosophy is to phase in the tolls by bundling them into these projects.

  • Tolling the I-way would probably mean sacrificing India Point Park to allow for enough room for a toll plaza, even with open road tolling, not to mention it would be a disaster with exit and entrance ramps feeding into a toll plaza. A Providence Viaduct toll plaza would likely require knocking down either Veterans Auditorium or the Hilton and Regency Apartments to make for enough room for a plaza. The viaduct area has a higher number of exits with a greater volume than the I-way. With something on the order of 200,000 cars a day at each location, tolling would create a traffic nightmare, lengthening the rush hour wait time and extending it further into the day.

    A toll on 95 between route 4 and 295 makes sense. South County residents who would be affected by a toll plaza between exits 2 and 3 would be miniscule. The populated areas of Hope Valley and Wyoming are to the north and would be unaffected since they would use exit 3 to go north. The few rural parts of Hopkinton and northern part of Westerly could use Route 3 if they needed to avoid the toll. The vast majority who would be affected by an exit 2/3 toll would be out-of-state drivers arriving from Connecticut and points south or Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents driving to the Connecticut casinos.

  • Really, if you want to toll any of these higher traffic locations, you’d put the toll booth in both directions around exit 10 on 95. It gets people coming south off 295, 95 and north off 95 and 4. It gets the out of staters in every direction. You also put a booth on the exits immediately near it to get people trying to drive around the toll.

    Putting a toll booth anywhere north or east of Providence on 95 or 195 is just stupid and will cause extra traffic both on the highway itself and on the local roads going around it. The only other place besides Warwick that makes logistical sense is somewhere in South County.

  • Peter: I wasn’t aware that all-open-road tolls would even need a plaza. With toll-by-plate, you can just capture the license plates of non-EZ-Passholders and mail them the toll later. There shouldn’t really be any reason to widen the interstates, exit ramps, or add more lanes.

    At least, that’s what I thought. Is there some particular reason not related to road widening that the buildings surrounding the Interstate need to be blown up?

    Runaway Jim: I’m in complete agreement with you as far as the Warwick toll would be concerned. Locals don’t even need to access the highway in that area, so they’re more or less unaffected by exit ramp tolls.

    I don’t agree with you on the Providence tolls, however. ‘Extra Traffic’ is going to be a natural side effect of the tolls no matter where you place them, and it’s a lot harder to evade tolls by going on the local roads in Providence.

    South County, by contrast, makes the least sense of all possible toll locations simply because of the road geometry in that area – avoiding the toll is not only trivial, but the road used to avoid the toll is a moderate speed, four-lane, free moving highway for most of its existence. Instead of tolling somewhere in South County, you’d need to toll everywhere in South County.

    It’s not a choice between three tolling locations when two of those locations span a distance of 3~7 miles each and the other one spans 20.

  • Highway 407 in Ontario is one of the better known examples of open road tolling in North America. Here is one of that roads toll collecting structures from Google Maps:

    View Larger Map

    And here is a description from Wikipedia:

    The 407 uses a system of cameras and transponders to toll vehicles automatically. There are no toll booths, hence the name “Express Toll Route” (ETR). It is one of the earliest examples of a highway that exclusively uses open road tolling. Highway 407 is designed as a normal freeway with interchanges connecting directly to surface streets, without the need for toll booth intermediaries (typically via a trumpet interchange) which could otherwise take up significant land. A radio antenna detects when a vehicle with a transponder has entered and exited the highway, calculating the toll rate. For vehicles without a transponder, an automatic number plate recognition system is used. Monthly statements are mailed to users.

  • The Ontario example is of a two-lane rural highway, not a four- to five-lane wide city highway with multiple interchanges as is the case in central Providence. Closer to home or at home the RITBA just installed open-road tolling at the Newport Bridge. The Newport Bridge and Jamestown Freeway are four-lanes, two in each direction. The authority installed one open-toll lane in each direction. They removed four conventional toll booths for the open-tolling lanes, but kept and are using the remaining eight conventional toll booths. The toll plaza is the same width as it was before open-road tolling. E-Z Pass is only accepted in 14 northeast and midwest states. A tolling authority, at least in this country, probably has to have the ability to accept cash. How would someone from Florida or another non-E-Z Pass state get through an open-road only toll? The massive 20+ wide lanes toll plazas in New York and New Jersey would be the scale to expect if tolling were installed in central Providence.

  • Not true, Peter. The same mechanism we use to catch toll violators driving through the open road toll with no E-Z Pass can also be applied to mundane revenue collection. In fact, it’s funny you should mention Florida: Florida’s Turnpike has gone no cash collection in Miami-Dade County.

    Absolutely no highway widening needs to happen whether the all-electronic road you want to toll is 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 lanes. In fact, switching to all-electronic would let us dispose of the gigantic ‘toll plazas’ entirely, in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Florida’s figured this out, we can do it too.

  • This is an open road tolling installation on the Tri-State Tollway in metro Chicago:

    Via Wikipedia

    Chicago, similar to the New Jersey Turnpike but unlike Florida’s Turnpike and the 407 in Toronto, uses both open road tolling and toll booths.

    When tolls were being proposed for the East River crossings in New York, ORT was what was being discussed there is no way to put a toll plaza someplace like Queensboro Plaza for the 59th Street Bridge, and Queens Blvd. would be an endless traffic jam if they did. Of course for now, tolling of the East River bridges is not happening due to political backlash.

    TfL utilizes the same automatic number plate recognition technology used on Open Toll Roads to enforce the Congestion Zone in London.

  • So, I was wrong or at least uninformed. It might be possible then to install these tolls at closer intervals to lessen the avoidance issue. If there were more tolling places the rates could be adjusted lower for people traveling shorter distances. If a car is from out of state or out of the country without a transponder and is sent a bill, what is the enforcement mechanism or penalty for non-payers?

  • Peter, if we did ORT, we wouldn’t have to have a system like the Mass Pike where you pay per distance. We’d have tolls like on the Garden State Pkwy or in NH where you pay a flat rate. So the way it would work is the shorter the distance you travel, the less you pay anyway. The last time I took the GSP a long-ish distance, the tolls were each something like $0.35 (this was in 2005).

    I think something like this would prevent all but the cheapest people from getting off the highway to avoid them because the difference in time between taking Rt 1 to Rt 4 and dealing with the traffic lights and slower speed limits and summer traffic wouldn’t be worth the savings for people trying to get farther north or somewhere farther into CT than Stonington. This is because there’s no slowing down or stopping for tolls. You can stay at 65 mph the whole way through to Warwick.

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