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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.

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