East Bay legislators today submitted legislation to create a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges without a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge, according to a state house news release.
The legislation creates a new Infrastructure Trust Fund using a number of existing revenue streams to create a predictable pool of funding for the maintenance of all state-controlled roads and bridges as well as adding funding to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.
“Rhode Island’s transportation infrastructure is the responsibility of all Rhode Islanders. Our transportation infrastructure needs to be a priority of the entire state and needs the entire state’s support. We can do this. We must have the resolve to seize this opportunity and address the challenge once and for all. The time to act is now,” said Senator Lou DiPalma (D-12), the lead sponsor in the Senate.
House sponsor Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70), who represents parts of both Portsmouth and Tiverton, said, “This is a way to consider all the elements of transportation as they relate to one another, rather than piecemeal. Bridges exist throughout the state, not just in the East Bay and all of them need to be maintained safely. Having safe, functional transportation routes all over the state benefits everyone. And how can we make public transportation a viable alternative if we don’t treat it as a genuine part of our transportation infrastructure? Our goal is to bring all parts of our state transportation system together and use our resources wisely to support them all.”
Said Sen. Chris Ottiano (R-11), “This legislation not only deals with the immediate problem of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls but also, looks 10 years ahead and offers a solution to our infrastructure funding on a statewide basis. Our infrastructure is vital to the entire economy of this state. It is equally vital that it be repaired and maintained. This plan uses mostly existing funding sources without new taxes and only one new fee that will sunset in five years. It is truly a statewide solution.”
The Infrastructure Trust Fund established by the legislation would be funded through several sources. First, the legislation would decrease the total of anticipated state revenue that can be budgeted from 97 to 95.5 percent, and dedicates the difference to the fund. (The rest would continue to go to the state’s rainy day fund or the capital fund, as is the case under current law.) All new funds from the uninsured motorist fund are also to be dedicated to the fund, as is any gas tax revenue that becomes available as the state assumes the Department of Transportation debts.
Beginning in 2020, all gas tax revenue would go directly to the trust fund. Currently the gas tax money has been going to pay off the bonded debt that the state incurred to meet the federal match for transportation projects.
For the first five years of the new funding system the fund will be augmented by a temporary 5-percent surcharge in Division of Motor Vehicle fees. This increase is eliminated in 2020.
The legislation also transfers the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge from the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority back to the state, and establishes a new Rhode Island Bridge Authority as a department within the Department of Transportation, with the ability to toll only the Claiborne Pell Bridge.
The legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate today. Cosponsors in the House include the whole Portsmouth delegation (Rep. Ray Gallison(D-69), Rep. Dennis Canario (D-71), Rep. Linda Finn (D-72)), Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket), Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown) and Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren). Cosponsors in the Senate with Sen. Ottiano include Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence).
Editorial note: Written from a press release.