Without Sakonnet Tolls, Bridges Face $17 Million Funding Shortfall

Tiverton's legislators told the Town Council on Monday that any plans to subvert tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge would need to fill a $17 million funding gap.

Tiverton's legislative delegation told the Town Council on Monday that any efforts to undermine the the placement of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge would need to address a $17 million annual funding shortfall.

According to Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, to maintain Newport County's four bridges - the Newport Pell Bridge, Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, Mt. Hope Bridge, and the Sakonnet - will cost the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) $38 million annually over the next 10 years.

Effectively, the revenues from a Sakonnet River Bridge toll would do more to pay for maintenance projects on the RITBA's other older bridges, as the Sakonnet River Bridge is a state-of-the-art new construction, said Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. Dist. 70,  Portsmouth, Tiverton).

"‎This is going to end up as a cash cow for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and nothing else," said Edwards. "We're going to be spending our money to go across that bridge to support anything they want to do on the Pell Bridge, the Mt. Hope Bridge, and the Jamestown Bridge because this bridge isn't going to need any maintenance for five or six years."

In the absence of the Sakonnet Bridge toll, the RITBA's other funding sources - if they remain level - would fall short of paying that maintenance bill by about $17 million annually. The legislative delegation, however, said there were countless ideas to make up the gap.

DiPalma suggested raising license and registration fees at the state's Department of Motor Vehicles or raising tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge.

Sen. Christopher S. Ottiano suggested raising the rates on speeding tickets and moving violations by $5 to $15. 

"There is no shortage of options of where to get it," said Ottiano. "It's about getting a coalition of people together on one idea."

Currently the East Bay legislative delegation is working to repeal Article 20 of the state's 2013 budget. Bills to reverse that article, which authorized the transfer of the Sakonnet and Jamestown bridges over to the RITBA, are working through both the House and Senate.

The legislators said that hearings before the each chamber's finance committee would likely begin between late-February and March. The success of those bills, he said, would rely largely on the help of local activists and town councils. 

"What is crucial once we get before the hearings - it is important that all these groups come up here and testify, especially the businesses because that's who it's going to effect," said Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Dist.71, Portsmouth, Little Compton and Tiverton).

Edwards also submitted a bill to change the makeup of the RITBA's board of directors, changing its composition from the governor's appointees to elected officials from Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport.

"Our goal is no tolls, like your goal is," DiPalma said.

Bill the 1st February 01, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Tolls on interstates have to be approved by the Federal Government. Our request for a toll at our border was rejected, so 95, 195 and 295 are not available for tolls. That would leave only a few roads of significance which would be available for tolls. Specifically, 1, 2, 4, 24, 114, 138 and 146 would be options for tolls. The problem with your argument is that it is based on a false premise. There are a few desginated funds that the State has/gets, but generally speaking, money collected directly or indirectly by the State goes into the general fund. The State allocates a portion of those funds to the DOT. (NOTE: Here is where the false premise occurs.) How does the State maintain other roads and bridges? Well, they don't. From what you say, you drive around the State often. The roads here suck. The only roads that are in decent condition are ones which were paid for by the Federal government. The State regularly underfunds the DOT. Compound that with the fraud, theft, waste and abuse performed by the DOT and there just isn't any money left over to maintain anything. Consider this... The RITBA gets no tax dollars. They manage to pay for the maintenence and repairs to both the Newport and Mt. Hope bridges. This is especially significant when you realize that the Newport Bridge was built with substandard steel and the Mt. Hope Bridge is nearing the 100 year mark. Without tolls, the DOT will do a bad job with tax money and then require more tax money to build a new bridge.
Stanley Martin February 02, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Forget about explaining it to Jim and his freeloading tiverton friends. They don't understand that bridges don't magically appear for free... PAY UP JIM... We all already do!!!!
Stanley Martin February 03, 2013 at 02:45 PM
If you can't see that I'm gonna pay double while you pay nothing then you really don't understand the issue.


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