On Thursday, legislators will vote on the budget bill for fiscal year 2013, which includes a provision to toll travelers that cross the Sakonnet Bridge.
State Senator Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) has said the toll will hurt local businesses and residents, which is why he is not in favor of the proposal.
Dipalma stated he is not optimistic about Thursday's outcome. East Bay representatives are a small percentage of the 75-member House.
The House will vote on the budget one article at a time, which will allow for debate and amendment to the individual components. The Senate will vote on the budget as a package.
“It’s a challenging situation,” said the senator.
If passed, the maintenance of Sakonnet River Bridge and Jamestown Bridge would be transferred from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to the Rhode Island Bridge and Transportation Authority (RIBTA).
The RIBTA is a quasi-governmental agency that is currently responsible for the maintenance of the Newport Bridge as well as the Mount Hope Bridge. The RIBTA funds the operating expenses through tolls on the Newport Bridge.
They are the only bridges in the state that are not maintained by RIDOT.
“[The state] does not have sufficient financial resources to assure the future maintenance and operation of the Sakonnet River Bridge,” reads the bill.
DiPalma said the Mount Hope Bridge and Newport Bridge are in good condition, but the state has not maintained the old Sakonnet River Bridge. .
“If the bridge was maintained, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.
, Rep. Daniel Reilly spoke out against the provision and said it would impose an unfair tax on Aquidneck Island residents.
“This will have an adverse impact on residents who use the bridge on a regular basis, harm local businesses both in terms of transporting goods and hurting the island’s tourism based economy,” Reilly told the committee.
Middletown Town Council President Arthur Weber agreed the toll will have a negative impact on the community.
“It holds everyone hostage on the island with tolls required for the major entrance and egresses and will penalize all without an E-Z Pass,” said Weber.
DiPalma said it boils down to a matter of what is fair, and the proposal does not fix that issue.
The bill reads, “The current toll structure places undue burden on the residents, businesses, and visitors who must use the Newport Bridge to access work, schools, shopping, and other essential services.”
DiPalma said the only positive aspect of the proposal is that extra toll revenue would be appropriated to road work in other cities and towns in the East Bay. He said approximately 40 percent of the Sakonnet Bridge traffic is out-of-state travelers.
Reilly disagreed the appropriations would work out in the favor of Aquidneck Island residents.
“It is not fair for residents of Middletown and Portsmouth to pay tolls that could subsidize road work in towns as far away as Jamestown, Warren or Barrington,” said Reilly.
Once the bill is approved by the House of Representatives, it will be passed to the Senate.