Standing Athwart the Highway Yelling “StopTollsRI”


A great man once wrote that “a conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”  When William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote those words, he was speaking out against the creeping orthodoxy that had taken hold of our country, and of the danger that it presented to individual liberty. He urged us to be our own men in a time of conformity.

In Rhode Island, the orthodoxy of our time says that the status quo can never be stopped. That it is the voice of inevitable progress. And that we must carry on with its progress at the expense of everyday Rhode Islanders. That the people of our state must suffer to atone for their privilege. That we will forever be crushed under the boot of high taxes and big-government spending.

The reality couldn’t be further from what the conformists want you to believe. The truth is that the people have within their power to change the status quo. Today, we must never be afraid to be the nonconformists who go against the conventional thinking.

Recently on the Ocean State Current, James Kennedy put forward what he calls the “conservative” case for tolls. While Mr. Kennedy is not a conservative, I admire his effort to see things through the eyes of others. I think it takes great courage for someone on the left to reach across the divide and try to think in ways that are different from their normal thought process. For that, he earned my respect.

However, despite some of the fine arguments he makes for tolls generally in far away places, they are not right for Rhode Island. Today, I will stand before you and say “Stop.” Now is the time that Rhode Islanders stop Governor Raimondo’s toll plan before it is too late.

Kennedy begins his argument that some of the budget cuts proposed by the GOP make sense without question. The GOP policy group has put forward a plan to make reasonable budget cuts to pay for infrastructure repairs in opposition to the governor’s toll plan. Kennedy points to the rampant corporate welfare that plagues our state as an example of cuts that could be easily accepted by the left and the right. He argues that those cuts should translate into tax reform. In an ideal world, this would happen.

In the Ocean State, it is not realistic. Rhode Islanders must be happy warriors and take every opportunity to stop the advancement of bigger government through new revenue streams. We have all heard the big promises made about such projects as 38 Studios. You know better than to trust them one more time. Tolls must be stopped now, or we’ll end up with no reforms and one more place where the status quo can exploit taxpayers.

Rhode Island’s greatest asset is our geography and our state’s location. Tolls will turn it into a weakness as business owners will be forced to reroute around our state, denying the economic boost their presence will bring. Many business leaders have already testified against tolls.

Kennedy argues that we should use tolls as a way to manage congestion. In a state that was recently graded with a “D-“  in business climate, why would we do anything to further limit human activity? Rhode Island does not have a congestion problem. We have an orthodoxy problem. This is the kind of meddling that gets Rhode Island into trouble.

Governor Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal is about more than just the cost to Rhode Islanders; it’s about accountability for our political leaders. For too long, they have wasted our hard-earned tax dollars with their bloated spending, and our roads show the results. They’ve painted themselves into this corner. How dare they try to put their mistake onto the backs of working people?

I encourage you to go to The new coalition has done everything it can to make it as easy for you as possible to make your voice heard. On you will find a petition, where you can stand shoulder to shoulder with others in opposition to the governor’s plan. Sign the petition on now and share it vigorously and often. You have the power to change things in Rhode Island.

  • James Kennedy, Transport PVD

    Thanks for the article.

    There are a few things people should read in order to get a deeper sense of where I stand.

    There’s a second article at The Current-Anchor explaining in greater detail the complexities of tolling, RIDOT spending, and so on, in the context of the 6/10 Connector/Boulevard campaign. One of the major things we have to look out for is overspending at RIDOT. Providence is #8 for highway lane-miles per capita in the U.S., and that makes it the only northeastern city to be on that list (Portland, Oregon, on the opposite list–fewest highways–is a bigger city by area and a less dense one, even including many of Providence’s suburbs, so it makes you wonder why we need so much RIDOT blight around).

    I think it’s important to say that my goal is for users to pay for roads. If the reason we can’t pay for our infrastructure is that we have too much of it, then the answer is to cut back, not necessarily charge more. There are some practical issues here: we’re not going to suddenly abandon all of our worst design mistakes (6/10 is one, I-95 in Providence-Pawtucket is another) so we do have to still make sure that while those mistakes are there that they don’t kill anyone. So as much as I can entertain the abstract notion of not tolling by paying less for roads, there’s only so much of that we can do immediately. Tolls will still be needed.

    But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean we can’t save on tolls. We could have much lower tolls if we reduced the cost of the 6/10 Connector. A boulevard option would allow bridges to be eliminated or shortened, which means the engineering would be less expensive. We also have 70 acres of land that could then be redeveloped, which adds to the tax base and allows taxes to go down on everyone should we be able to meet our budgetary goals partially through growth. The 6/10 Connector is a huge part of the cost of tolls, so it’s the first place we can focus on common ground in order to reduce that cost.

    I don’t agree with the notion that tolling is a burden on ordinary people. By the way, I have a lot of truckers in my family. I’m not suggesting that they’d agree with me on this issue, but my point is that I am aware that truckers work really hard and are an important part of the economy. My Uncle Rick, his son Ricky, my cousin Patrick, my Uncle Wicky, and his sons, have all been truckers at some point. Trucking is one of many ways we can get our goods to market, and when we take an approach that overbuilds highways and undercharges for them, we’re subsidizing trucking. Adam Smith would say that we shouldn’t do that. The rail and ocean freight industries are other ones that compete with trucking and that can help keep costs down, and so can the competition between truckers themselves. That’s why it’s clear to me that a charge to go across the state in a truck would be most likely to be swallowed by trucking companies as a small part of what they do (in other words, the cost of delivery is less elastic in the market–people won’t pay more than x amount–than the profit margin of a previously subsidized business). At the end of the day, if truckers had to pass the cost of tolls completely on to customers, that would be regrettable, but would also be a sign that there must be no better competitive option. So wouldn’t that mean that we’ve reached an optimum in the market?

    • Larry Gillheeney

      It is impossible for tolls not to come out of the pockets of ordinary people. This is ultimately the place where we disagree on the tolling issue. Rhode Island families are already struggling to get by with the heavy burden placed on their backs. Truck tolls would be one more example of how Rhode Island gets it wrong.

      A small business owner from Warwick, who owns a trucking business, recently reached out to the StopTollsRI coalition. He said how concerned he was that while this is being targeted at him now, that it was only a matter of time before it was placed on cars too.

      We’ve already paid for the upkeep of our infrastructure through things like the gas tax and registration fees. Rhode Island’s legislators failed to set the correct spending priorities in the state budget, and now the Governor wants to place the responsibility onto the backs of job providers and small business owners.

      But don’t just take my word for it, I encourage everyone to go to: to hear testimony from business leaders.

      Despite arguments that the costs of tolls will not be passed on to consumers, they certainly will. Can the people of our state really afford higher prices at the checkout line? Market forces are a powerful tool to reduce costs, but taxes and regulations disrupt market forces raising the costs for consumers.

      Arguments for or against the 6/10 are distinct from the toll issue. Speaking personally, there is room for rethinking how this space is used with two important caveats. First, changes to the 6/10 must be made without reducing the mobility of Rhode Islanders. Second, it must be a lower cost alternative. Many people have identified the high cost of housing (and the high cost of running a business) in the Providence area as one of the problems in Rhode Island. By reducing the amount of land being controlled by government, market forces will bring these costs down. That is an important consideration.

      I’ll close by once again complimenting Kennedy on his larger argument outside of tolls. Over spending by the RIDOT is a serious issue. His argument is nuanced, and certainly better thought out than what the Governor is proposing. He has indicated being open to a P3. A public private partnership for the management of Rhodeworks will allow Rhode Islanders to sidestep a troubled DOT and save hard earned taxpayer dollars in the process. Rhodeworks must not become another Big Dig through mismanagement and public corruption. In a P3 a private partner absorbs the risk. By allowing a private contractor to manage the Rhodeworks project, Rhode Islanders are safer.

      In the end, it is difficult to find too much disagreement with anyone arguing for tax reform and spending cuts! The issue is that Rhode Island’s public policy culture is not sophisticated enough to do two things at once. If the toll proposal is unopposed, we will end up with a worst case scenario of high taxes, big spending, and then tolls on top of it.

      • James Kennedy, Transport PVD

        We had a good discussion of this question on Twitter between @jsonpbecker, @transportpvd and Lawrence. I encourage people to check it out. There are a lot of assumptions about non-competitive markets, inelasticity, etc., that invade into your logic on ordinary people paying the cost of tolls.I think it’s pretty clear that truckers will pay this cost, but have to swallow it from profit margins, because of the competitive nature of other freight operations edging their prices lower.

        I want to point out that I’m a skeptic of the idea that more is better in transportation, and this is a place of potential common ground with some of the right. I am (as you say) a liberal–very liberal, even–but that doesn’t stop me from seeing when liberals are wrong on something. I wrote this piece: critiquing Bernie Sanders on his assumption that a) the rich should pay for roads, and b) that we necessarily need way more money to fix things.

        The particularities of RI are complex. As I think I said online, there’s a lot of infrastructure that we “saved” money on by deferring maintenance, that is now about to fall on people’s heads. Some of that infrastructure I would favor just removing, or at least making into less intense infrastructure. But we can’t do all of that at once (even if I’d like to) so for now we need at least some money to pay for repairs and maintenance. Truck drivers do the most damage, and it is a fact that neither truck drivers nor car drivers pay the full costs of road maintenance (and, no, that doesn’t include things like climate change or asthma–I’m saying that cars and trucks do not pay the full cost of asphalt and concrete, etc.). So we either pare back a lot, or we have people pay for what they use.

        The GOP plan pushed heavily by Rep. Morgan says we should use “existing” funds. But this is a sunken cost fallacy, because the “existing” funds she wants people to use are general funds. We shouldn’t be wasting general funds on the things she proposes cutting, but we also shouldn’t be wasting them on roads. Roads should be paid for by user fees.

  • Gloria Garvin

    The Battle Cry has been sounded —



    RI’s Media Publicists forgot to mention…
    That the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s “Compelling
    Policy Idea” to upgrade RI’s roads and bridges – is nothing more than
    cookie-cutter ‘model legislation’ straight from the American Legislative
    Exchange Council (ALEC) bill mill.

    In a effort to publicly cloak this fact, “CEO” Mike Stenhouse is
    promoting that the Center modeled their ‘Privatization’ plan after
    Pennsylvania law, however, this is not the whole truth, because what he
    fails to mention is that PA’s P3 law was adopted almost ‘word-for-word’
    from the ALEC legislation that he and others are shopping to Statehouses
    across the country.

    Read full article @

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Gloria, I’m not sure if you’d recognize a “whole truth” if one walked up to you and gave you a quote to use in your propaganda.

      The Center has proposed no legislation for a P3 program, just an introduction of the concept for consideration. If it came to the point of crafting legislation, we’d have no reservations about using model legislation from ALEC as a starting point, if it seemed to fit the bill.

      That’s how lawmaking works. If you start with a model (whether ALEC’s, another state’s, or somebody else’s), you begin with a legal framework that might help avoid unintended pitfalls. But the groups introducing legislation, the committees reviewing it, and then all of the legislators involved should go through it and make sure it’s crafted to fit the specific needs that fit what RI is trying to do.

      There’s no dark conspiracy, here.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Tell me, Gloria: Why are you using progressive attack literature to fight against people who are actually on the side you claim to support? I don’t think the differences between the Center and the things you supposedly believe justify this level of attack.

      And then you take unfair quotes from a progressive Web site and go even farther in order to lie about something I said.

      You’re trying to build a false-flag operation with ties to George Soros, aren’t you? Is that why you’ve taken over the Cool Moose Party, too? Are you planning to use it to run spoilers to disrupt any free-market candidates who run for public office?

  • phucatpilot

    The real reason that the state has so many bridges and roads needing repair is because the federal and state tax money collected for this very purpose, has instead been dumped into the general funds account for years. This money was not spent as intended. All of these jobs they are saying will be created are jobs that already would have been created had the money gone where it was supposed to. Same problem with the lottery income that was heavily advertised as going towards education, just another victim of the general fund, aka, “The Black Hole. We do not have a single elected official who has even been able to stop the crazy high car tax, so I don’t expect much help from them on the truck toll issue. The only way I can see to fix R.I. is to vote out every single incumbent. There is a storm coming.