WOOD RIVER JCT. — Officials from the state Department of Transportation got an earful of negative comments about the proposed Interstate 95 truck tolls during a public information session Tuesday on the findings of an environmental assessment of the first two of 14 truck tolling gantries.
The meeting, which took place at the Chariho Middle School, began with an overview of the environmental assessment and then was opened to comments, which were recorded for the official record. The assessment was releasd Nov. 1.
The first two gantries will be built on Interstate 95 near Mechanic Street in Richmond near the Hopkinton town line and in Exeter at the Tefft Hill Trail bridges. They were scheduled to begin operating by the end of 2017 but are now set to open in February or March, 2018.
None of the approximately 35 people attending Tuesday’s meeting had anything positive to say about the assessment or the tolls. Among those submitting official comments were Sen. Elaine Morgan of Hopkinton, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, and members of the Richmond and Hopkinton town councils.
The environmental assessment describes the number of tractor trailers leaving I-95 to avoid the tolls by taking secondary roads as insignificant. The Richmond and Hopkinton town councils have passed resolutions opposing the tolls, and members are concerned about the increased likelihood of large trucks using Route 3, a secondary road.
Sen. Morgan said the tolls would hurt the state economy.
“It’s going to be economic devastation,” she said. “Milk will be $7 a gallon. Everything, from the shoes you wear to the clothes on your back, this is going to have a major impact and I can’t understand why people don’t see this.”
Rep. Morgan described the environmental assessment as both inadequate and “cynical.”
“You didn’t have enough time to do a transparent and open study of what the economic impact is going to be, not just on the trucking industry, but on the consumers, the citizens of Rhode Island,” she said. “This is a real cynical document that we have in front of us.”
Two residents said they were concerned that trucks trying to avoid the tolls would pose a danger to school buses, and Richmond Town council President Paul Michaud said he believed RIDOT would expect police from the towns to keep trucks from using the smaller roads.
“I think DOT wants us, the town of Richmond and the other towns also, to be able to police that,” he said.
Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he doubts the tolls will ever be installed.
“I just think this whole thing is going to blow up,” he said.
Representatives from two truckers’ groups, Christopher Maxwell of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, and Darren Roth of the American Trucking Association, warned that the assessment did not address the cumulative effects of all 14 tolls and said trucks had been unfairly blamed for road damage and wear.
“Everything you’ve got on, you go to the hospital, the oxygen you breathe is brought to you by us,” said Rhode Island trucker Mike Collins, owner of M&D Transportation Inc. “Why would you want to screw with your supply chain?… And if you believe they’re going to stop at us, they’re coming for your cars, trust me.”
While they were outnumbered by officials at the meeting, the few residents who attended still had strong feelings about the tolls.
“It’s been shoved down our throats,” Hopkinton resident Dolores Danusis said. “And environmental impact? Of course. It’s everywhere. It’s not a necessary thing. I think it’s going to hurt us as a state.”