Public Records Request on Rhode Island Truck Tolls Yields 1882 Maps of Providence

Dec 30, 2015

The Sakonnet River Bridge was built in the 1950s, and was replaced in 2012 with a new span. The old one is slated for demolition.
Credit Rhode Island Department of Transportation

A Republican state representative in Rhode Island received maps of Providence dating back to 1882 as part of a public records request for information about the state's plan to install truck tolls. But information about possible toll locations was not included in the bundle of documents.

State Rep. Patricia Morgan, who represents West Warwick, said Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo is not being forthcoming about a major infrastructure investment plan, which would cost $1.1 billion over 30 years.

The plan includes demolition of the old Sakonnet River Bridge, which was built in the 1950s and has been slated for demolition for some time. It was replaced in 2012 with a new span.

The state's plan also includes possible tolls for trucks, and a plan to divert truck routes on local roads during road and bridge construction. 

Morgan sought documents earlier this month related to Raimondo's plan. She told The Providence Journal that the Raimondo administration said the plans were in draft form, so state law doesn't require them to be provided in a public records request.

This leaves key questions unanswered, according to Morgan. The public records request yielded unrelated or meaningless information, she said, and did not include key information about proposed sites for truck tolls.

The maps were included in the documents because it had been attached to an email sent in the fall by the state's chief civil engineer.

From The Providence Journal report:

[Morgan's] argument: "There are documents showing toll locations and diversion. Even in their draft form, the public has a right to know where these tolls will be placed and the other roads that will experience greater volumes of traffic. With over a billion dollars at stake ... Rhode Island should be worried about policies created behind closed doors without the benefit of serious and comprehensive debate."

She said the DOT also withheld, or was unable to produce, an "informational study conducted by the Department of Transportation, which could justify the costly construction of a Bus Rapid Transit Lane on Route 10."

A Raimondo spokeswoman said preliminary locations for truck tolls would be identified at a later date.

The spokeswoman also said the infrastructure investment needs a new analysis, since the federal transportation plan provides a possible opportunity for funding.

The Rhode Island General Assembly session begins next Tuesday. Debate about Raimondo's plan to use truck tolls to pay for bridge improvements is likely to be one of the defining issues of the session.

This report includes information from Rhode Island Public Radio and The Associated Press.