After Tim White and I reported last week on RIDOT’s proposal to put tollbooths on I-95, former state Rep. David Segal wrote in to point out that this isn’t the first time Rhode Island and the federal government have been at odds over the state’s desire to toll a road – and last time, it almost stopped us from ratifying the U.S. Constitution.
Here’s Wikipedia’s version of the story (emphasis mine):
Before the Constitution was drafted, the 13 colonies operated under the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress. The national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states. These divides included a dispute between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River and Rhode Island’s imposing taxes on all traffic passing through it on the post road that linked all the states. As the Articles of Confederation could only be amended by unanimous vote of the states, any state had effective veto power over any proposed change. In addition, the Articles gave the weak federal government no taxing power: it was wholly dependent on the states for its money, and had no power to force delinquent states to pay.
On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following James Madison’s recommendation, invited all the states to send delegates to Annapolis, Maryland to discuss ways to reduce these interstate conflicts. At what came to be known as the Annapolis Convention, the few state delegates in attendance endorsed a motion that called for all states to meet in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787 to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a “Grand Convention.” Rhode Island, fearing that the Convention would work to its disadvantage, boycotted the Convention entirely in hopes of preventing any change to the Articles. When the Constitution was presented to the United States of America, Rhode Island refused to ratify it.
That’s not the only reason 92% of Rhode Islanders originally voted against ratification – the General Assembly defied the Founding Fathers’ instructions and held a referendum on the document, which angry Federalists boycotted; the state eventually approved it by the narrowest margin the country. But it shows the question of how to tax Rhode Island’s roadways has always been a vexing one around here.
One thing the Boston Post Road of the 1780s didn’t have was E-ZPass. But the electronic toll system brings its own problems, since some cars breeze through without paying. And the man who’d be in charge of RIDOT’s proposed I-95 tolls says that’s why RITBA pulled up the gates on the Pell Bridge, The New York Times reports:
In Rhode Island, David Darlington, the chairman of the board of directors for the state’s Turnpike and Bridge Authority, said he still remembered when former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri raised and lowered a baseball bat in front of him to protest a gated E-ZPass system being introduced at the Claiborne Pell Bridge in 2009.
But Mr. Darlington said the governor was more accepting when he learned how much money was being lost to toll cheats: of every 100 cars, about three to four were not paying their tolls before the authority introduced the gated system. Mr. Darlington said the agency was still considering having open-road tolling by the summer of 2012 because it was so much more convenient for drivers. Given the agency’s past experience, it is understandably cautious.
“We as an agency have to pay our bills,” Mr. Darlington said. “One of the big factors in all of that is how do we make up for the evaders so that we don’t lose revenue.”