Government and Data: Truck Tolls


Yesterday afternoon, Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg tweeted a table from a new CDM Smith report that the RI Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) just released as part of its campaign for a huge toll-and-borrow plan.  According to the table, out-of-state truckers account for 55.3% of truck traffic in Rhode Island, and after accounting for a multi-trip discount applied to tolls in the state, they’d account for 60.2% of the tolls collected.

In today’s related article, Gregg quotes Governor Gina Raimondo as saying that her plan shifts the infrastructure burden toward out-of-state truckers, who are “abusing” Rhode Island’s roads.  But a very important detail is completely left out of the CDM Smith report: diversion.  RIDOT’s original projections for the governor’s RhodeWorks project assumed a diversion rate of 25%, meaning that 25% of the expected tolls would not be collected because truckers would find alternate routes.

One needn’t hire an outside analyst like CDM Smith to conclude that the better part of any diversion will come from out-of-state truckers.  Just for illustration of the effects that change could have, if we apply the diversion evenly across all routes and assume the extreme that all diversion would come from out-of-state truckers, then the percentage of traffic more than flips.  In-state trucks would account for 60% of all truck traffic in the state.

Applying rough ratios for a multi-trip discount and assuming the discounts would all go to in-state truckers, they would still be responsible for nearly 57% of all tolls, or $34 million per year, if the goal is $60 million in revenue.  That’s more than $10 million larger than implied by CDM.

Remember, too, that there’s a spiral problem with this sort of data.  The lower the traffic, the higher the tolls, which means more traffic will divert.  (And don’t forget other sources of per-mile revenue that Rhode Island collects from truckers that would be affected by diversion.)

  • Mike678

    And we are on the hook for the bond. Special

  • Monique Chartier

    Great catch, Justin. Leaving out truck diversion is a major omission from this study and heavily damages the credibility of its conclusions.

    This is either the third or fourth study commissioned or carried out by the Raimondo administration to try to make the case for tolls. EVERY TOLL STUDY she has released has had significant flaws. This is all the more shocking when you consider that Gov Raimondo’s forte is numbers and finances.

    Under no circumstance should tolls come to Rhode Island, not even if the governor could come up with flawless data. It simply is all the more helpful to the case against tolls that she has not been able to do so.

    By the way, Speaker Mattiello needs to be very careful not to cite any of these studies to make the case for tolls. It was the Raimondo administration who made the Governor herself, the Speaker and the Senate President look bad back in the spring by rolling out a very poorly researched toll proposal. It is clear that the poor research has continued unabated. If the Speaker refers positively to ANY of these studies, he will be knowingly making himself look bad this time.

  • Monique Chartier

    … on a slightly different level, that of governing philosophy, the significant omission by this study of truck diversion perfectly encapsulates the misguided, misinformed attitude of politicians who think that a change in government policy – in this case, the imposition of a tax, fee or other burden – has no effect on people’s behavior.