Residents Speak Out Against Bridge Tolls, Call Fees 'Highway Robbery'
Hundreds of residents turned out for the first of two bridge toll hearings on Monday night.
Michael P. Lewis, director of the Department of Transportation (DOT), opened the first of two bridge toll hearings on Monday evening.
The second hearing will be held tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Tiverton High School.
Many audience members held "no toll" signs. Lewis also encouraged residents to fill out a comment sheet.
"The bulk of the hearing is for you," Lewis said. "We will be here as long as you need it tonight."
Lewis began with a history of the proposal. In the 2013 budget, the governor approved the authorization to transfer ownership of the Sakonnet River Bridge to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). "The transfer has not happened yet," Lewis said.
The Sakonnet River Bridge will be complete in spring 2013. "The construction will be funded," Lewis siad. "This is about creating a source of revenue to maintain the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Bridge, and the Mt. Hope Bridge, and the Newport 'Pell' Bridge."
7:23 — Lewis presents financial figures and how the state gas tax is distributed. Lewis says 40 percent of Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) budget comes from gas tax.
7:27 — Lewis says gas tax revenue has decreased since 2007 because "people are driving less." In 2012, nearly $40 million out of $91.8 million in gas tax expenditures went to debt service, he said.
7:36 — The DOT director, a board member of RITBA, says the RITBA needs $433 million over 10-years for a capital maintenance plan. The RITBA currently has $370.3 million in available funding, leaving a $60 million shortfall for the 10-year maintenance plan.
7:43 — Lewis says toll could go on the Sakonnet River Bridge as early as next summer.
7:46 — Rick Gobeille to discuss traffic impact of bridge tolls. Many in audience grumble and state "we know."
7:55 — Audience begins to yell "no tolls." Others in audience ask the audience to be quiet so the speaker can continue.
7:57 — Gobeille says 21% of traffic diverts off Sakonnet River Bridge in toll proposal model.
7:58 — Lewis invites residents to line up to speak. "I'm afraid you people have not done your homework," says Philip Driscoll to the DOT director.
8 p.m. — Long line of residents waiting to speak out against bridge tolls. Larry Fitzmorris says 27,000 people have signed petition against tolls to date.
8:11 — "I believe instituting a bridge toll on the Sakonnet is both discriminatory and unfair," Bill Clark, business director for Portsmouth. Tolls will add $56,000 in travel costs per year for one Portsmouth business, he said. "Why are we here and why wasn't this meeting held a year ago," Clark asks.
8:16 — "There could be a domino effect on Raytheon, NUWC and the Navy base," says Ray Berberick, a founding member of a Portsmouth business group fighting the tolls.
8:26 — Chiropractor Ron Marsh of Tiverton says his practice in Portsmouth would pay $228 per month in bridge toll costs. He proposes that, due to costs, a "bronze plaque go on the bridge as a major benefactor." Audience laughs and applauds.
8:29 — Woman speaker proposes abolishing the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. Audience applauds.
8:35 — Residents ask Lewis why other bridges are not being tolled. "By federal law, we cannot toll the interstate," Lewis said.
8:47 — June Woods, who operates a nursing facility, says she's speaking for 400 residents who could not attend hearing tonight. "We simply can't afford this toll," she said.
8:50 — Owner of the popular Redlefsen's restaurant in Bristol speaking now. "Your tolls adding $8 for a couple for a lunch is way more. They can go to Boston or dine where they live. You will put my business in bankruptcy," he said. "You will bankrupt 20% of businesses on this island, including Newport."
8:53 — Mike Donahue of Bristol raises safety issues, discussing the fatal crash on the Mt. Hope Bridge this past Saturday. "Why hasn't there been a comment tonight about the safety issue," he asked.
9:26 p.m. — Residents are still lining up to speak. Rep.-Elect Dennis Canario and Portsmouth Town Council President James Seveney about to speak. "The town government has stood against tolls ever since the outset. The town government doesn't want this," Seveney said.
9:34 — Owner of Flo's Clam Shack in Portsmouth and Middletown speaking now before the DOT. "With $4 or $8 around trip, they are not going to spend $6 on clam cakes," he said. "I will loose minimum $250,000 this summer, a quarter of a million dollars for that toll. That's a lot of clams."
What do you think about the proposed bridge tolls? Tell us what you think about them or this hearing in the comment section below!