Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them


Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti racheted it up a notch by involving his host. Following is the transcript of their on-air exchange. (Starts at Minute 04:35.)

Gene Valicenti: … This is the American Trucking Association and the RI Trucking Association. They represent the owners. Who represents the [truck] drivers?

Peter Alviti: The Teamsters union represents the drivers.

Valicenti: They may say, we represent the drivers, too. You have trucking concerns at large, we’ll stick right with that. But the Teamsters recognize the drivers per se, correct?

Alviti: Right, the Teamsters have supported this because their drivers are the ones that are behind the wheel of these vehicles and they want their drivers driving on safe bridges and roads, right? So they supported this from day one and actually, during the hearings for RhodeWorks spoke in favor of the RhodeWorks initiative.

Valicenti: The Teamsters, the truck drivers’ union, support this and spoke in favor of it.

Alviti: That’s correct, yes.

Valicenti: You’re putting your hand up, you swear and attest to that.

Alviti: No, well, their testimony is on file as part of the hearings … public hearings on this.

Valicenti: That’s an interesting note.

Alviti: Yes. (Chuckles.)

Question for you, esteemed reader: what conclusion does this exchange impel you towards? (We’ll give you a moment to think so as to not to prejudice your natural reaction.)

<Jeopardy music interlude>

Okay, here we go. You concluded from this exchange that truck drivers in Rhode Island support truck tolls, right? “Teamsters represent drivers. Teamsters support truck tolls. Therefore …” Sure, it’s a natural conclusion.

But then, if we keep thinking, the next logical question a lot of us have is, how many Rhode Island truck drivers – what percentage – does the Teamsters actually represent? Let’s be broad-minded and make that: what percentage of truck drivers are unionized in Rhode Island?

Extensive research failed to turn up either of these data points. In the process, the national rate of truck driver unionization turned up: it is 2% (two percent).

The Ocean State Current then contacted both RIDOT’s Peter Alviti and WPRO’s Gene Valicenti and requested this information. Gene Valicenti promptly returned the call but did not provide this information. He did subsequently say on air that Teamsters represent only a portion of truck drivers but again did not offer any percentages or corroborating data.

At the suggestion of Director Alviti’s office, the Ocean State Current attempted to reach RIDOT Chief Public Affairs Officer and spokesman Charles St. Martin. We left detailed messages for him on Thursday and Friday but received no response at all.

In the absence of any substantiating data, accordingly, the implication by Peter Alviti and Gene Valicenti that Rhode Island truck drivers support truck tolls is false and seriously misleading. (Sheesh, apparently the Raimondo administration’s truck-tolls-are-good ammo room is so cleaned out, they’ve had to resort to innuendo bordering on fantasy.)

On the important point itself, a quick calculation gives us an indication, if not the specific answer:

The national rate of all unionized workers is 10.7%, according to Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (though this link pegs it even lower at 6.6%). RI’s overall unionization rate is 16.1%. This is 50.4% higher than the national rate. (Correct if this is wrong.)

The national unionization rate of truck drivers is 2%. Imputing from these figures, the percentage of unionized commercial truck drivers in Rhode Island would be approximately 3%.

Again, this is not the data point, it is simply a potential indication. But perhaps a telling one: if the national figure of unionized truck drivers is 2%, could the percentage in Rhode Island exceeds single digits? (Standing by to post the correct figure, Peter, Gene or anyone, if you’ve got it!)

Bigger picture now. Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOT, mostly in the person of Director Peter Alviti, saturated the ramp-up, rollout and implementation of the unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme with gross misinformation and flat out lies, including most significantly, truck counts, which RIDOT themselves corrected downward not once but twice. Now that the national trucking organization has filed suit against her truck-only toll scheme, the Raimondo administration is increasingly desperate to prop up and defend her damaged, damaging new revenue stream.

The theatrical presentation by RIDOT Director Peter Alviti and WPRO’s Gene Valicenti transcribed above, devoid of any substantiating data, was clearly intended to do this by adding yet another piece of misinformation to RhodeWorks’ unsavory rollout: that truck drivers support truck tolls. As such, it was wholly unwelcome, detrimental to the debate about a major, controversial, onerous new revenue program and a real disservice to WPRO’s listeners and the state.

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, has been volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

  • oceanstater

    I don’t think persisting on being anti-truck toll makes any sense, both politically and otherwise. There can be no doubt that heavy trucks both add to construction costs and do significant damage to roadways and bridges. Tolling them to help pay for the repairs on the very bridges where the tolls are placed is better than having only Rhode Islanders to pay for the repairs, or worse, not doing or delaying the repairs until the bridge conditions are desperate. That was too often the past policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

    • Mike Collins

      So , you actually believe that tractor tractor trailers put rot holes in bridges , rusted and neglected steel have and just ruined the national highway system that was built in and commissioned in 1945 to handle the country’s transportation network . You have drank the Raimondo Kool Aid and have fallen for their false statements.. Do you in fact know anything ,about bridge formulas , axle weights etc…. a tractor trailer can gross 80,000 #s but that doesn’t mean that it is at max gross. If the trailer has a load of pillow or furniture it might only gross out at 55-60 over 5 axles. A cement Mixer ” that is not getting tolled ” can weigh 90,000#s over 3 axles , a dump truck at 77,000# over three axles , The 3 axle trucks do considerable damage and yet they are not on the toll list ….
      Our roads and bridges were and are paid for by tax dollars . Trucks account for 9% of the mileage on the us highway system and yet pay 32% of the tax burden . Yes other states have tolls but they do NOT receive federal funds like Rhode Island does

      Peter Alviti himself openly admitted on Matt Allen’s Radio show that the trucks didn’t cause the damage , years of neglect and no
      maintenance have brought us to this point

      Do not think for a minute they will not be tolling your car .. If that were the case then they would have passed Rep Fillipi’s bill that would have made it law not to toll cars ,, instead they only need a legislative action.

      They wanted the law suit . They want the judge to tell them they cant toll just tractor trailer’s. that way they can spin it and say that the judge tolled them they have to toll everyone .

      Why would you continue to put up gantries in the middle of a major lawsuit. Very simple . when they loose , they will be ready for cars . UHIP PAWSOX RHODEWORKS , have all been shoved down peoples throat ….

      So , when you want to make a point or have an opinion , have the correct facts , not what Gina Raimondo or Peter Alviti told you ..
      if you want to make change , vote them out

      • Mike678

        Mostly true, but the larger point, i feel, is that truckers won’t pay these tolls. They will pass it on and you will in the form of higher cost goods. Just another in a long line of regressive indirect taxes.

        • guest

          Mike, who do you expect to pay for your roads, the tooth fairy?

      • oceanstater

        I disagree. I’ve read that truck damage grows exponentially with weight, for example at 12,000 pounds the wear and tear is equivalent to 500 cars but at 34,000 pounds the damage is equivalent to 4550 cars and so on.
        In addition, the AAA warns of the danger large trucks pose to motorists, for example they give the stat that 98% of the people killed in car-truck crashes were in the cars.
        And I’m not worried about tolls on cars, its too unpopular for the politicians, and eventually there has to be a way to pay for roads when gas powered cars are replaced by electric vehicles, a likely scenario coming. And if the toll costs are passed on to consumers that want the products the trucks bring (including some consumers in southeastern MA from trucks passing thru RI) that’s the way the market should work.

        • Mike Collins

          Where is your AAA fact of when truck and car are in accident 93.% of the time the car was at fault everything you eat and wear is brought to you by a truck 8.7 billion miles traveled on all US highways 550 miilion by truck the rest cars .. AS stated the US highway system road s/bridges and highways were built and are built to handle 80, 000 lbs .. Years of neglect and no preventive maint. should not be tagged to a specific industry . So why is that you do not see the bridges in mass , nh &me falling down . Because they took care of them

          • oceanstater

            I agree MA, NH took better care of their roads but in part because they also had plenty of tolls (e.g. I-90 in MA, I-93, I-95 in NH), partially paid by RIers, to pay for that. I don’t see why we shouldn’t do something similar, indeed we are, and finally starting to fix things.

  • Monique Chartier

    Oceanstater, to be clear first of all, I and oppose ALL