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Letter: Why I Am In Firm Opposition to Bridge Tolls

Letter to the editor from Rep. Daniel P. Reilly

Dear Editor,

In this past legislative session, there was not a single action taken more harmful to our local economy than the imposition of bridge tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge in the budget for Fiscal Year 2013, passed on June 8th by a 57-15 vote in the House of Representatives.

Without question, I was unequivocally opposed to the concept and had many questions go unanswered. For a proposal with such serious potential impact to my constituents, there was little homework done by the Governor, and, if there was, it was never shared with the Legislature.

Before the House Finance Committee I was told by the Department of Transportation that the tolls were needed to relieve pressure off of the DOT, to the tune of possibly $12-15 million.

Those were the only numbers I was ever provided with. Was an economic impact study done? No.

How much revenue is anticipated from the bridge? A good question, but one apparently not good enough to be answered for the legislature voting on the proposal.

Why can’t DOT just maintain the bridges they do have, instead of letting them fall into the water? Well the answer to that question seems to be the most elusive of all. Without a doubt, I was not sold on the proposal. Furthermore, the proposal before the legislature in the budget contained some major mistakes that needed to be rectified. They weren’t.

The Department of Transportation will be moving the Sakonnet River, Newport, Mount Hope, and Jamestown Bridges into the “East Bay Bridge System,” which will allow for tolls on the Sakonnet River and Newport Bridges. Any excess toll revenue after maintenance and debt service has been paid will go into the “East Bay Infrastructure Fund,” which will be available for projects throughout Newport and Bristol Counties.

So, Bristol County, with no toll bridges, will be able to take from the fund that Newport County taxpayers are disproportionately funding. Furthermore, there are no assurances in the law that the DOT will continue to fund Newport County projects in the state Transportation Improvement Program, and not divert money to projects elsewhere since we have this other “pot of cash” which we can use.

I requested that the budget be amended to provide for these changes, and the amendments failed.

Some would say that this would seem unfair, that Newport County shouldn’t reap all of the benefits, and that, without tolls, other communities would be unfairly paying for our bridges. Of course, in a year where Aquidneck Island taxpayers helped bail out the Central Falls pensions to the tune of $2.6 million, subsidize other transportation projects throughout the state through our gas taxes, and have been paying for the entire Central Falls School District since around when I was born, other legislators and the Governor’s Office apparently have an oddly-conceived notion of “what is fair.”

I am also concerned that this funding source, if successful, will dry up when the state finds itself in a cash crunch and wants to move the revenue into the general fund. Remember the “temporary” sales tax increase to pay off the DEPCO bonds? We are still paying it.

And we paid off the DEPCO bonds years ago.

Forgive me for not exactly trusting a state government with a very poor history when it comes to “restricted receipt accounts.” This proposal also does not take into account that GARVEE funds, borrowed in anticipation of future federal highway revenue, were used to pay for the new Sakonnet River Bridge, the I-Way in Providence, and the Route 403 Connector to Quonset Point in North Kingstown among other projects.

The toll proposal does not mention at all how much of the remaining GARVEE debt, estimated at around $500 million, will be supported by the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Regardless, it is certainly taking a load off of other communities that will undoubtedly have the debt for their projects taken care of by Newport County while still enjoying the projects paid for out of the same pot of cash as ours did.  For many reasons, the proposal, now passed, to place tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge will be extremely harmful to my constituents, and that is why I voted against it in committee and on the floor, and voted for many amendments to change it.

Moving forward, I have been contacted by many constituents as to what they can do to fight this back, before 2014 when the tolls are expected to be implemented. Residents and the business community in Newport County need to stand together to put pressure on the Governor’s Office and legislative leaders to scrap this ill-conceived plan. If my constituents allow me the privilege of serving them for another term in office, I will be introducing legislation on the first day of the next session to roll back this proposal.

In a budget of more than $8 billion, we can find $15 million, if that is what is needed. The first step is for our leaders to be honest about what is needed to properly fund our infrastructure, and then craft an equitable plan to get it done.

 

Joe Sousa. June 22, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I wish we could clone you. We need common sense conservatives up state.
Roger Lord June 22, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Dear Rep. Reilly, Before we get too far, which way did you vote on the final budget bill that included the Sakonnet River Bridge toll provision?
Dan Reilly June 22, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I voted against the final budget, because it included the bridge tolls.
Roger Lord June 22, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Rep. Reilly - thank you for holding your ground and standing up for your constituents all the way.
Nptdrive June 22, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Thank you Dan Reilly for thinking of the people in Newport and Jamestown that have been subsidizing the northern end of Aquidneck Isalnd with the Pell Bridge tolls. I notice you didn't see you stand up about tolls on the Pell Bridge but now you may actually have to pay for something as you use it. If you don't like it bring back the ferry or better still turn it over to a private company which you so called conservatives expouse and see what your toll would be, This isn't going to kill any economy on Aquidneck Island that's nothing but a red herring The Pell Bridge hasn't killed Newport's economy and the new one won't kill Aquidneck Island It s all about the people that again don't want to pay as they go. And before you pontificate about the 195 project not being tolled why don't you compare the cost of almost annual upkeep on a large bridge like Pell & Mt Hope vs the annual upkeep on a hi way with a few smalle bridges. Give us a break nothing more than trying to get re elected .
Robert E June 22, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Nptdrive get ready for higher tolls the state just found a new source of revenue the excess money from the tolls will now go for roads in both Newport and Bristol counties. How long before the state starts to put this money into the general fund and raises tolls to genarate more money? The state sees Newport county as a cash cow and won't stop until they bleed us dry.
Dan Reilly June 22, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I don't have a problem with a bridge built as a toll bridge if its bonds were secured by toll revenue and that was the plan from the beginning. I do have a problem with being told by RIDOT that the new Sakonnet River Bridge won't need a toll, having it paid for out of the gas tax-supported budget, and then being lied to and told a toll is needed so they can simply get the cash flow from it. We have a responsibility to maintain our infrastructure, and in the context of an $8 billion+ budget we can find the funds necessary to maintain our bridges. As for the maintenance of the I-Way, remember this isn't about covering maintenance or construction costs but rather for generating revenue (no maintenance budget was even given to us) so regardless of whether or not the span being tolled has high maitenance costs the DOT doesn't really care. Anyone is more than entitled to their opinion, but I simply do not agree that the idea that another tolled bridge would be good for our local economy.
Monica June 22, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Dan, thanks again for looking out for us as you always do. I knew this would be your view after discussing it with you a few years ago. This toll will cut off Tiverton and Little Compton from the rest of the state, which is foolish. It affects my commute to Somerset each day which will now add anywhere from $20- $45 per month in expenses to my bills. Luckily my husband is no longer crossing the Newport Bridge to go to work each day. As Aquidneck Island residents, I think many of us feel trapped. There is a bridge "troll" after all in the form of a toll!
Glenn Williams June 23, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Come election day I hope voters will remember how everyone voted. Maybe we can remind them. I know everytime I go over the Sakonnet ill be thinking about Chaffee
Keith June 23, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Glenn - Very good point. The budget passed on a 57-15 vote, and needed fifty votes to pass (2/3 of the House, under the Constitution). If Reilly's eight colleagues from the East Bay (Newport and Bristol Counties) had voted with him and against the budget than the budget, and the tolls, would have failed by one vote. Who voted FOR bridge tolls (voting FOR the budget): Rep. Edwards Rep. Ruggiero Rep. Gallison Rep. Martin Rep. Jackson Sen. DiPalma Sen. Paiva-Weed Sen. Ottiano REMEMBER THIS AND VOTE THEM OUT!!!!!!
Keith June 23, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Well seeing as how Reilly represents Portsmouth I don't really see his concern for Jamestown being too necessary...just saying...
Bob S. June 23, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Why don't you let the state use the gas taxes we pay to go towards the bridges that were built with gas-tax supported funds? I love how you people from Jamestown and Newport are convinced that because the ferry was replaced by a bridge that had tolls from the very beginning then all of us have to pay tolls too...

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