Bike Paths, Lights, Sustainability – RhodeWorks Tolls Turn into Huge Bait-And-Switch

Am I going crazy? (Don’t answer that!) Didn’t Governor Gina Raimondo sell us on her unnecessary and highly destructive RhodeWorks toll plan by saying that the money would go to repair our very unsafe (oh so unsafe; most unsafe in this quadrant of the galaxy) bridges? But look at this RhodeWorks Quarterly Report!

Bike paths, lights, guardrails, road re-paving, something called “I-95 Sustainability” – RhodeWorks is being spent on all kinds of projects, not just bridge repair. Remarkably, there is even a RIDOT sign that CONFIRMS money from the RhodeWorks/Toll Project is being spent on a bike path!

What the heck??? Tolls were supposed to go to our unsafe bridges! Where did all of these other projects come from?

It’s becoming clear now that Governor Raimondo and General Assembly leadership perpetrated an enormous, costly bait-and-switch on the residents of the state in order to inflict tolls on us.

Here’s a question that someone good at interpreting laws and legislation is welcome to answer: does the RhodeWorks toll law even permit non-bridge-repair spending? (Link to toll bill as signed into law.) If it does, why wasn’t this made clear to Rhode Islanders from the beginning?

We know the answer. Because the truth – “We want to put a toll on trucks and almost certainly cars in due course so that RIDOT can have an endless revenue stream at your expense” – simply wasn’t going to fly. Hence, the “necessity” for what turns out to be an eye-popping level of deception and dishonesty – “Panic! It’s not even possible to measure how unsafe our bridges are!!!” – on the part of Governor Raimondo and legislative leadership with the public. (This in no way lets rank-and-file legislators who voted for tolls off the hook. They voted for this unnecessary new revenue stream knowing full well what a terrible idea it was for Rhode Island. Please check out how your incumbent legislator voted on tolls here, then please vote accordingly in September and November.)

This ruling by a U.S. District Court in New York, accordingly, could not have come at a better time. The court

… ruled against New York State’s practice of using tolls paid by interstate truckers as a piggybank to finance unrelated tourism and recreation projects that make up the New York Canal System.

What is very interesting is the basis for the court’s ruling.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in ATA’s favor in an August 10 opinion “because the Thruway Authority’s diversion of toll revenue collected from interstate truckers to maintain the Canal System violates the [Constitution’s] Dormant Commerce Clause.”

Ooo. The US Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause. Now you’re talking. Setting aside for a moment the enormous lie by which it was sold to the public, is Rhode Island’s new truck toll law even legal to begin with? Let us not forget that RIDOT had commissioned a legal opinion about the Governor’s truck toll plan, had promised Rep Dan Reilly that they would give it to him AND TO THE PEOPLE WHO PAID FOR IT AND WHOM IT WOULD AFFECT and then they reneged on that promise. (Psych!) Why didn’t RIDOT release this legal opinion? Did it cite cautions against or even potential legal impediments to Rhode Island becoming the first state to toll trucks only?

WPRO’s John Loughlin correctly pointed out yesterday that if this legal opinion (funded by TAXPAYERS, let us once again note) were favorable to the Governor’s toll plan, not only would RIDOT have released it but they would have rented a billboard on Route 95 to blare the news.

The US District Court’s ruling further underscores everyone’s doubts about the legality of the Governor’s truck toll plan and represents cautious good news for all Rhode Islanders living under the impending dread of the erection of that first gantry, knowing fully well that they would multiply like cockroaches and would certainly climb into cars soon after they infest trucks. It is also a very welcome instant karma rebuke of the disgraceful, dishonest bait-and-switch that our elected officials pulled on us in order to sell the Governor’s precious (to her) and highly destructive (to Rhode Island) new revenue stream.

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