Rhode Island releases application to toll I-95 - challenge to LaHood, Mica policy
By Peter Samuel
Rhode Island officials have released details of their application to toll I-95 for reconstruction putting pressure on both US Secretary Ray LaHood and Republican House transport committee chair John Mica whose statements have suggested they both seem to want to block tolls except for extra capacity. The Rhode Island application dated June 29 has not received any response from the Federal Highway Administration.
The package sent to the FHWA Office of Innovative Program Delivery makes a compelling case that, without toll revenues for rebuilds of major structures and pavement, I-95 could deteriorate to the point where connectivity between Washington, New York and Boston on the interstate is put in jeopardy. Already some of the 50 to 60-year old structures on the route have improvised shoring to allow them to be kept open.
The application says that tolling is the only way that urgently needed reconstruction can be funded on the 43.5 mile, 70km RI/I-95 and on 23.6 miles, 38km of the closely connected RI/I-295 can be funded with foreseeable funding sources.
The introductory letter says: "Due to the conditions of the I-95 and lack of sufficient State funds, tolling I-95 is necessary to maintain (its) connectivity from Washington DC to Boston Massachusetts; for the safety of thousands of motorists; and for the economic viability of business (locally and nationally) that rely on our State's 67 miles (108km) of the I-95/I-295 interstate corridor."
The proposed toll point not far from the Connecticut border between Exits 1 and 2 was recommended for tolling in a December 2008 report to the state governor on transportation funding. They estimated it would generate $39m/year at a toll of $3 for cars and $6 for trucks.
Key projects on I-95/I-295 proposed for toll funding are:
(1) replacement of the so-called Providence Viaduct of I-95 in downtown Providence
(2) reconstruction and modernization of the I-95 interchange with RI-4 south of Providence
(3) many projects along the 67 mile, 108km length of I-95 and its twin I-295 from the Connecticut to the Massachusetts border to get and keep the highway in a state of good repair
They say tolling is essential to bridge the funding gap, and cite a December 2008 report of a "blue ribbon" commission of inquiry into transportation finances in the state. That Commission recommended tolling of I-95 between Exits 1 and 2. It noted that traffic outside Providence was about two-thirds out-of-state motorists. In a small state like Rhode Island they have no trouble driving in and out of the state without refueling, so make no contribution to roads funds via the state gasoline/diesel fuel taxes. And of course they don't pay the local driver registration or vehicle license fees either.
The application to the FHWA for a tolling permit has attached a letter of support jointly signed by the state governor, the state house speaker and the president of the state senate.
RIDOT would partner with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) to toll I-95. That state toll authroity presently only tolls a bridge.
The application to FHWA says eight bridges on I-95/I-295 are structurally deficient and virtually the whole length of the highway needs work.
Priority would be given to the Princeton Viaduct which carries 230k vehicles/day on 8 lanes with no shoulders. Of eight spans totaling 1290ft, 393m it crosses a bunch of railroad lines including the main Amtrak line Boston-New York, local roadways and ramps to RI-6, RI-10, and other local streets.
They say the deck of the viaduct is badly deteriorated and there is shielding and shoring of the structure in numerous places.
"There are numerous cracks in the structural steel secondary members and increasing fatigue cracks in the main member welds and steel girders."
Delay in work on the viaduct would produce - at some point - lane shutdowns, weight restrictions and ultimately closures.
No extra main lanes would be built. The project would focus on reducing congestion by adding breakdown shoulders to reduce delays and reorganize entry and exit ramps - in some places with ramp 'braiding' or acute angle grade separation - to reduce the need for weaving movements on the mainline.
Cost is put at $140m.
Second project involves replacing the present I-95/RI-4 interchange to grade separate entering movements and exits with braiding, and add an auxiliary lane through the interchange - at a cost of $75m.
RI-4 is the access route to Quonset Industrial Park south of Providence. There has been major industrial and commercial modernization of a 5 square mile area that 70 years ago was devoted to manufacture the famous World War II 'Quonset Huts' - the semi-circular section corrugated iron prefabricated buildings sent in vast numbers to allied forces in World War II.
They say in their application that tolls were necessary for developing most of I-95 in the first place to gain connectivity, and that this interstate is tolled currently in ME, NH, NY, NJ, DE, MD. (Tolls on I-95 are proposed in the Carolinas -editor)
"Likewise the imposition of tolls as being proposed by Rhode Island is necessary to maintain the connectivity and the development of I-05/I-295 within Rhode Island."
POPULATION: the US Census Bureau classifies Providence and most of Rhode Island as part of the greater Boston combined statistical area with 7.61m people in 2009, the tenth largest in the country. Providence-New Bedford-Fall River RI-MA combined metropolitan statistical area was estimated in 2010 to have 1.60m population, 37th among urban areas classified as metropolitan statistical areas. By this tighter classification Boston was also 10th ranking at 4.55m population.
NOTE: WPRI in Rhode Island were the first to get a copy of the application - editor.
Rhode Island DOT I-95 website:
on problems with I-95 Providence Viaduct:
Rhode Island transportation funding report Dec 2008:
some grants for tolling studies here:
LaHood-Mica stage bipartisan opposition to tolls except for new capacity: