|Rep. Jay Edwards.
Photo: RI General Assembly.
Rep. Jay Edwards (D-70) has introduced legislation that would ultimately accommodate a full vetting process for an equitable alternative to Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, according to a state house news release.
The legislation (2014-H 7569) extends the date that the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) may impose a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge – not to exceed 10 cents – from April 1, 2014 to July 1, 2014.
“This bill gives us the time we need for our colleagues in the General Assembly to review our transportation proposal and, if approved, place it in the state budget,” said Edwards, also the primary House sponsor of the transportation bill. “This needs to be a transparent, thorough process so that we do not have to revisit this issue again. Bridge tolls are still a hot-button issue for my district and the East Bay; although I certainly would not limit this conundrum to just East Bay residents. How we go about maintaining our bridges and roadways is a statewide issue, which we have said from the beginning. We have done our homework, and now it’s time to move forward and address this issue head-on.”
Submitted earlier this month, the transportation proposal (2014-H 7432, 2014-S 2335) creates a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges without needing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Under this proposal, the state would establish a new Infrastructure Trust Fund using a number of existing revenue streams to maintain all state-controlled roads and bridges. It also adds funding to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA).
If approved, the legislation would also transfer the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge from RITBA back to the state, while creating a new Rhode Island Bridge Authority as a department within the state Department of Transportation. The new bridge authority would only have the ability to toll the Claiborne Pell Bridge.
“We put the April 1 deadline in place so that we could study the toll issue,” said Sen. Lou DiPalma (D-12), who is the lead sponsor of the transportation bill in the Senate. “If nothing came of that study, that deadline wouldn’t matter right now. But because we were able to come up with a compromise that we believe alleviates a lot of the concerns related to the issue, it is now imperative that we take the next step and give everyone ample time to ask questions. This is not something we want to rush.”
Cosponsors of the House bill pushing back the toll deadline are House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello (D-15), Majority Whip Stephen Ucci (D-42), Deputy Majority Whip Chris Blazejewski (D-2) and Deputy Speaker Donald J. Lally Jr. (D-33). It has been referred to the House Finance Committee. Senator DiPalma plans to submit identical legislation in the Senate.
Editorial note: Written from a press release.