DOT Awaits Answer From FHWA Before Moving Forward With Sakonnet River Bridge Tolls
DOT plans to begin tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge this summer are stalled, pending federal approval.
Plans to install tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge still await federal approval, despite comments by state Department of Transportation Director Michael P. Lewis to a legislative committee on Thursday that tolling would be implemented this summer.
DOT Spokesman Bryan Lucier clarified remarks Lewis made during the hearing before the House Finance Subcommittee on Transportation. He told Patch Friday afternoon that plans to implement tolls are stalled, as the state awaits an answer from the Federal Highway Administration on its application to impose tolls on Route 24.
"We are still waiting for word from the Federal Highway Administration regarding our application — the re-evaluation," Lucier said. "That's kind of where we stand. Obviously the proposal is out there and I know they mentioned the summer timeframe as something we have obviously proposed, but at this point we have no word from Federal Highway.
"We are not moving forward with anything until we have heard from Federal Highway on the application we submitted," Lucier added.
Without federal approval, tolls cannot be implemented and the transfer of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority will be stopped. "It would be difficult for Turnpike and Bridge to take on any new bridge without a funding source that balances that out," said Lucier.
East Bay residents and lawmakers alike are vocally opposed to installing tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and have staged protests and drafted legislation in the interest of blocking the tolls. Dozens of East Bay residents and business owners testified before the Senate Finance Committee on the senate bills.
Legislators on both sides of the General Assembly have introduced several bills that would block tolls and give East Bay stakeholders a louder voice in the process.
Rep. John Edwards (D- Tiverton, Portsmouth) sponsored a bill (2013-H 5137) repealing Article 20 of the Fiscal 2013 budget. The legislation would prevent the Rhode Island Department of Transportation from transferring control of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges to the RITBA, currently allowed by Article 20.
Sen. Walter S. Felag (D – Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) sponsored the bill in the Senate (2013-S 0020).
Edwards introduced a second bill (2013-H 5069) that would replace the four RITBA gubernatorial appointments with the mayor of Newport and the Town Council presidents of Portsmouth, Tiverton and Jamestown or their designee. Under the legislation, all members with the exception of the director of transportation would have to be residents of Newport County.
Senator Louis DiPalma (D – Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) introduced legislation mirroring the second House bill in the Senate.
Reps. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D – Bristol, Portsmouth), Kenneth A. Marshall (D – Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), Dennis M. Canario (D – Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) and Jan P. Malik (D – Warren, Barrington) and Sens. M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D – Newport, Jamestown), Christopher Ottiano (R – Portsmouth, Bristol), David E. Bates (R – Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Louis P. DiPalma (D – Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) are sponsoring the legislation.
"All those bills are still in play, there is still hope," said Gallison, who serves on the House Finance Committee, which will hear testimony on the bills by mid-April. "It ain't over til its over, and believe me we aren't going down without a fight."
At least one Portsmouth business closed to avoid tolls, moving shop to Tiverton - the owner's hometown.