PROVIDENCE—The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (RIACLU) praised its collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) on Monday to implement privacy protection regulations with the state’s proposed trucking toll gantries on Route 95. The gantries have been a divisive issue among the Rhode Island public, as local businesses such as Ocean State Job Lot have argued that the incurred yearly costs for paying tolls could reach in the millions of dollars. 

Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the implementation of tolls into law last year, citing the need to find funding for improvements in state roadways. Through the ‘Rhode Works’ program, the state plans to pay for infrastructure improvements  through revenues from 12 tolling locations along Route 95. A report released in November by Louis Berger Group, a worldwide engineering and development consultancy firm, estimates that the tolls will generate approximately $45 million annually over a 30-year period, taking in a little over $150,000 per week. The report also estimates an average of more than 44,000 commercial vehicles crossing the toll gantries weekly, as well as approximately 12,000 on the weekend. 

A cost-benefit analysis from RIDOT on two toll gantries located in Exeter, as well as jointly in Hopkinton and Richmond, is currently underway, the public comment period for which ends on Dec. 30. The separate study is being conducted to assess the potential for ‘toll diversion’ between the gantries, or the ability for commercial vehicles to bypass the tolls on nearby artery roads. The two toll locations are estimated to generate approximately $7.1 million annually, money which will be used to repair bridges along Tefft Hill Road and Nooseneck Hill Road, among others. 

Although RIDOT has not officially set rates yet, commercial trucks are estimated to pay a maximum $40 per day, or 69 cents per mile at proposed gantries erected on I-95, I295, and I-195. RIDOT Executive Director Peter J. Alviti has defended the program, stating that no smaller passenger or commercial vehicles will be tolled, and called upon lawmakers to act ‘now.’ 

“The more we wait, the more expensive it will become to fix the problem,” he said in a January 2016 letter to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and then Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. 

Although tolls will not be collected from cars and smaller trucks, potentially large amounts of vehicle data will be gathered by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). Although RIDOT initially said all data processed would be done so through RITBA, it has since approved its own regulations regarding the protection of motor vehicle drivers’ information. 

The toll gantries will photograph all vehicles passing through, including close-up images of license plates, as well as collect data on date, time and GPS locations of every vehicle. The collection of such information was concerning to the RIACLU, who voiced their opposition to RIDOT in October. 

“There was no privacy at all, which was supposed to happen in the [RIDOT] regulations according to the legislation,” said RIACU spokesperson Marcela Betancur. After we sent our public comments to RIDOT, and spoke with director [Peter] Alviti, we ended up working with people at RIDOT in putting together these privacy rules.” 

According to the newly approved regulations, RIDOT stipulates that ‘any data collected…shall be used only for toll collection purposes and shall not otherwise be made available to law enforcement or other agencies except pursuant to a valid court order.’ 

Images and data which are not associated with a toll-eligible vehicle are also required to be destroyed after seven days, and toll payment information from commercial vehicles ‘shall be destroyed within three years of payment or other final disposition.’ 

The regulations also prohibit RIDOT from selling, trading, or exchanging any toll data ‘for any purpose other than toll collection.’ 

“We commend the department for listening to the concerns of the ACLU and others and putting strong safeguards in place to protect the privacy of the motoring public,” said executive director Steven Brown in a statement. “Without these protections, this statewide network of toll gantries had the potential to track, store, and make available to others vast amounts of information on all motorists. With ever greater advances in technology, government agencies must always keep in mind the importance of protecting the public’s right to privacy.”

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