Federal officials reject RI's I-95 toll plan

Federal officials balked Friday at Rhode Island’s proposal to place tolls on Interstate 95 near the Connecticut border, but the state’s top transportation official said the state is not giving up on the idea.

The Federal Highway Administration on Friday picked North Carolina as the last of three states to participate in a program allowing them to charge tolls on interstates.

The decision effectively kills Rhode Island’s chance for placing tollbooths on I-95 in the short-term, at least until Congress approves a new toll program for states in a new highway authorization bill.

“This program has three slots, and right now the slots are closed,” FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer told The Associated Press.

The state plans to continue to study the proposal, however, in the hope that it wins approval for tolls in the future, according to Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis.

Lewis said the FHWA’s decision shouldn’t be seen as a final verdict on the state’s proposal.

“This is an approval of North Carolina, not a rejection of Rhode Island,” he said. “Our application is still under consideration.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s administration asked in June for permission to place toll booths on I-95 in Hopkinton. Transportation officials said the toll revenue would go toward highway improvements and maintenance.

Officials in Connecticut were quick to oppose the proposal, saying it would unfairly burden motorists from their state.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., issued a statement Friday saying the FHWA “did the right thing” by choosing North Carolina’s proposal over Rhode Island’s.

Officials in Westerly, Hopkinton and other local communities had also opposed the idea. Hopkinton Town Council President Sylvia Thompson said she worried that motorists avoiding the I-95 toll would clog local roads.

“It would have just been a nightmare,” Thompson said.

North Carolina joins Missouri and Virginia in a federal pilot program making them eligible to use tolls to raise money for highway repair and upgrade projects. None of the states have actually installed their proposed tolls yet.

Article source: http://www2.turnto10.com/news/2012/feb/17/7/congressman-says-i-95-toll-proposal-dead-ar-936475/

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