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Connecticut trucks-only tolling plan about to cross its most expensive bridge

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Connecticut trucks-only tolling plan about to cross its most expensive bridge
As Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's trucks-only toll proposal approaches its final bridge before becoming law, a 1.4-mile section of I-684 stands as a potential roadblock. (Courtesy: Lohud.com)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s effort to pass a transportation bill including a trucks-only toll on 12 bridges is on the verge of meeting the bridge that will determine if the proposal lives or dies – state lawmakers. If all goes well, Lamont is expected to release the entire proposal to both lawmakers and the public on January 21. Following the mandated five-day period for public comment and debate, lawmakers could take a vote on the proposal as early as January 27.

As reported by The Connecticut Mirror, Lamont’s proposal, which began early last year as a plan to enact tolls on all vehicles along numerous highways and bridges, has now been narrowed to trucks-only at far fewer locations.

Sen. Len Fasano (R), a strong opponent of tolls of any sort in the state, wrote an editorial for the Connecticut Post in which he claimed it was time for Lamont to give up tolling and come up with a more effective and bipartisan proposal to fund highways.  “Democrats have given tolls their best shot,” Fasano wrote. “They’ve floated every toll idea under the sun. They proposed tolls on all cars, and just trucks. The offered resident discounts. The went from 85 toll locations down to 50 and now 12. The reality is there’s no toll plan that can make it across the finish line.”

While Republicans, the minority party in both the statehouse and senate, have dug their heels in for a battle that seemed to be going their way a few weeks ago, the publicly-discussed changes in the proposal to tolling a dozen bridges and trucks-only, may also be changing public opinion. In fact, a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a global firm working for interest groups and democratic candidates, indicated that Connecticut voters now support tolls by a margin of 51%-42%. Even worse for the opposition, when provided more details about the latest tolling plan, those polled increased their support to 64% versus the opposition’s 35%.

Factors including Gov. Lamont’s claim that 50% of tolls would be paid by out-of-state vehicles, along with the idea of trucks-only tolling at just 12 locations, might be swaying public opinion. Still, in a report aired on FOX-61, 28 towns have passed resolutions opposing tolls, the latest being Newtown. The city’s legislative delegation provided a seven-point resolution justifying its opposition, with most points focusing on increased traffic on city and country roadways as trucks take steps to avoid tolls. Likewise, the resolution included claims that increased traffic will impact real estate values, resulting in a city less attractive to homebuyers, developers, and business owners.

One hurdle that Lamont’s latest plan did not omit is a controversial plan to place a toll on the I-684 bridge over the Byrum River in Greenwich. While 95% of the length of I-684 is in New York, a 1.4-mile section of the roadway crosses the northwestern tip of the Connecticut panhandle. As many New Yorkers use the route to commute to New York City, it is likely that far more New York drivers will pay tolls than those from Connecticut. The proposed toll on I-684 has led to saber-rattling among Empire State legislators who have said that if Connecticut does impose a toll targeting mainly New York drivers at the location, they can expect to be met with even more tolls targeting Connecticut drivers and placed at border crossings those routinely crossing from Connecticut into New York utilize. The proposal has the potential of creating a toll war between the two states.

As Gov. Lamont’s final, though trimmed down, transportation bill approaches the bridge to approval over the next few days, no doubt Lamont knows that to gain the votes he needs, he may have to pay a toll in future political favors. And it’s very possible some of those favors may come due in New York, not Connecticut.

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Stretch of Highway 22 in Oregon closed after tanker crash, diesel spill

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tanker crash on highway 22
Highway 22 between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said. (Courtesy: Oregon State Police)

IDANHA, Ore. — A stretch of Highway 22 will be closed for much of this week as crews clean up gasoline and diesel fuel that leaked out of a crashed tanker truck near Idanha along the North Santiam River, state transportation authorities said Monday.

The highway between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said.

An oil sheen was visible on the North Santiam River downstream of the crash site, but officials said most of the tanker’s oil seeped into the ditch, where it was absorbed by the soil. It’s unclear how much entered the river, the Statesman Journal reported.

The city of Salem said Monday that its drinking water is safe and the oil from the spill has not reached its water treatment plant near Stayton, which is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from the crash. The oil will take several days to reach the plant, the city said, and teams will test the river water at multiple locations this week. Crews have set up absorbent berms to capture the oil on the water.

If any fuel is detected in the river, the city will close the water intake gates as it did in a similar situation three years ago.

The crash on Sunday closed Highway 22 near Detroit and Santiam Junction. The truck was carrying 10,600 gallons of fuel total — 6,500 gallons of gasoline in a tanker trailer and 4,100 gallons of diesel in the truck’s tanker.

About 7,800 gallons of fuel emptied into a roadside ditch and the rest was recovered, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials.

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FMCSA final rule lowers annual registration costs for motor carriers

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truck driving down road
The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities. (iStock Photo)

WASHINGTON — Motor carriers will now see a reduction in the price they must pay to register their vehicles. On February 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a final rule that realigns the fees for the Unified Carrier Registration Plan.

According to the document posted on the federal register last week, this rule establishes reductions in the annual registration fees the states collect from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies for the UCR Plan and Agreement for the registration years beginning in 2020.

“For the 2020 registration year, the fees will be reduced by 14.45% below the 2018 registration fee level to ensure that fee revenues collected do not exceed the statutory maximum, and to account for the excess funds held in the depository,” the document reads. “The fees will remain at the same level for 2021 and subsequent years unless revised in the future.”

The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities.

The UCR Plan and the 41 States participating in the UCR Agreement establish and collect fees from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies. The UCR Plan and Agreement are administered by a 15-member board of directors; 14 appointed from the participating states and the industry, plus the Deputy Administrator of FMCSA or another Presidential appointee from the Department, according to the final rule.

Revenues collected are allocated to the participating states and the UCR Plan. If annual revenue collections will exceed the statutory maximum allowed, then the UCR Plan must request adjustments to the fees. In addition, any excess funds held by the UCR Plan after payments are made to the states and for administrative costs are retained in the UCR depository, and fees subsequently charged must be adjusted further to return the excess revenues held in the depository.

Adjustments in the fees are requested by the UCR Plan and approved by FMCSA. These two provisions are the reasons for the two- stage adjustment adopted in this final rule.

“While each motor carrier will realize a reduced burden, fees are considered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A–4, Regulatory Analysis as transfer payments, not costs. Transfer payments are payments from one group to another that do not affect total resources available to society. Therefore, transfers are not considered in the monetization of societal costs and benefits of rulemakings,” according to the document.

The rule states that the total state revenue target is more than $107 million.

For more information or the read the rule in its entirety, visit https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/rulemaking/2020-01761.

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Rhode Island DOT looks to hike trucks-only tolls amid court battle; public input sought

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Rhode island dot wanting to hike rates on trucks-only toll system while court battle continues; public comment sought
A truck passes through one of Rhode Island's six operating toll gantries. (courtesy: Providence Journal)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the Connecticut legislature prepares to vote this week on Gov. Ned Lamont’s controversial and long-debated “trucks only” toll proposal, a similar system in Rhode Island continues to operate while legal action to overturn the tolls is underway.

The original Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal to charge tolls on trucks only included 14 locations, all bridges RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient. Tolls collected at each bridge would be used to repair and upgrade the specific location.

RIDOT is accepting public comment through March 1 on a plan to increase the toll on a newly installed gantry at the Oxford Street Bridge in Providence, a bridge crossing Interstate 95. The original toll for the bridge was set at $2.25 per trip; however, RIDOT is studying the cost-benefit ratio of doubling the rate to $4.50. RIDOT representatives requesting comment on the proposed increase claim the increase is really no increase at all; it is simply an effort to maintain the revenue forecast from the 14 gantries included in the original tolling proposal.

Currently, Rhode Island has constructed toll gantries at six of the originally planned locations; however, as the program has moved forward, two locations have been temporarily or permanently delayed. Rather than adjusting anticipated total revenue based on 12 locations, Gov. Gina Raimondo has instead directed RIDOT officials to study and request rate hikes at specific bridges. The toll hikes will allow Rhode Island to collect the same $45 million forecast from the 14 original gantries. This new twist on a toll program already challenged as unconstitutional by the American Trucking Associations, and one which an appellate court has ruled Rhode Island must face in a lawsuit, is leading the trucking industry and toll opposition to question RIDOT’s language in press releases and discussions on the issue.

Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said, “This should serve to reinforce concerns over the unbridled power and discretion given to RIDOT and further feeds the suspicion and skepticism of Rhode Island’s business owners about the end game of this scheme.”

Maxwell’s comments come on the heels of an already approved increased toll rate at another location in Providence. The Route 6 bridge over the Woonasquatucket River was increased from $2.00 to $5.00 last fall.

Maxwell also expressed concern about changing the still new tolls program when original approval was based on environmental impact studies. “From a legal standpoint,” he said, “these ‘on the fly’ changes would seem to undermine and violate the purpose and extent of the environmental impact assessments.”
Other opponents to the Oxford Street bridge toll increase note that the bridge does not fall into the criteria RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient, meaning revenue from the toll would be used at other locations, a provision not included in the tolling plan.

From RIDOT’s perspective, not only is the proposed toll rate increase not really an increase, it is also going to save the state money. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said that the infrastructure costs of eliminating two planned toll locations will result in lower implementation costs.

“Our thinking is we’ll forgo building [a gantry] at the viaduct in Providence, or at least while the viaduct is being built,” Alviti said on WPRO radio. “We’ll assign the toll amount we were going to collect there to the next nearest location, which is Oxford Street.”

Chris Maxwell believes he has a full understanding of RIDOT’s intent. “[They] deliberately chose the most densely traveled tool location in the who scheme to further their insatiable appetite to soak businesses, consumers, and taxpayers,” he said in an interview with Transport Topics.

RIDOT is justifying its proposed action based on the original toll proposal’s expectation of generating $45 million in revenue. In any event, Peter Alviti says, truckers traveling I-95 through Rhode Island will still be paying $20.00 per trip.

When is an increase not an increase? It depends on what your definition of increase is. For those wanting to comment, emails can be sent to Dot.BridgeRepairTolls@dot.ri.gov or comments can be submitted in writing to Jay McGinn, P.E., Project Manager II RIDOT, 2 Capitol Hill, Providence RI 02903. Following cutoff date for comments on March 1, the new rate will be implemented on March 5.

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