Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. John G. Edwards have filed new legislation to prevent additional tolls on Rhode Island bridges by establishing a new funding source for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority — vehicle inspections fees, the tax on vehicle insurance, insurance violation fees and other sources.
The legislation would also expand RITBA’s authority to all state-owned bridges with spans of more than 700 feet, adding 19 bridges across the state to the four the agency now controls in this corner of Rhode Island.
The goal of the legislation, the sponsors say, is to improve bridge maintenance and make RITBA a statewide agency, with benefits and responsibilities spread across the state, while preventing those who live or work in the East Bay or Aquidneck communities from bearing the brunt of the bridge maintenance costs through additional tolls.
“Rhode Island’s bridges are in rough shape. According the to a recent Department of Transportation study, 62 percent of state-owned bridges are either structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, posted or closed. We haven’t been giving them the attention, maintenance and funding necessary to keep them safe,” said Senator DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton) “Our proposal is a way to take better care of major bridges all over the state, and do so in a way that doesn’t make one segment of the population bear most of the burden.”
Said Representative Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), “Everyone in Rhode Island relies on bridges, whether they have major bridges in their own neighborhood or not. While many of those who live in the East Bay use the bridges there daily, the rest of Rhode Island benefits from them too, even if they only visit the area occasionally. We all reap the gains of the tax dollars generated by the many businesses located in the East Bay that rely on the bridges, especially those in the tourism industry. Our proposal is a way to take care of those bridges and all large bridges across the state without instituting more oppressive tolls.”
The legislation, which the lawmakers introduced yesterday, would give RITBA authority over a total of 23 bridges, adding to its stable additional bridges in Providence, East Providence, Lincoln, Cumberland, Cranston, Warwick and Newport.
Beginning in the next fiscal year, the bill would increase the existing biannual motor vehicle inspection fee from $39 to $65. The first $23 of the $26 increase would be allocated to a new Bridge Maintenance Fund Restricted Receipt Account, with $3 going to the facility performing the inspection. The increase is conservatively expected to generate $6.5 million annually.
The proposal also moves all vehicle insurance premiums tax revenues over and above the amount collected this year, and all assessed uninsured motorists’ fines over and above those collected this year, to the Bridge Maintenance Fund Restricted Receipt Account. Combined with the inspection fee, these changes are expected to provide about $111 million for bridges over ten years.
It would also leverage the net revenues generated by the Division of Motor Vehicles. Beginning with $5 million FY2016, the proposal would transfer from the DMV to the bridge maintenance fund an additional $5 million each year, topping out at $40 million in 2023 and remaining at that level from that year on, generating $260 million over ten years, beginning in FY2016.
Additionally, the legislation calls for an annual appropriation of $3 million from the Rhode Island Capitol Plan Fund, a state fund for infrastructure improvements, to the bridge maintenance fund. If the state should fail to make this appropriation in any given year, RITBA would be allowed to institute additional tolls.
The proposal also adds an annual appropriation of $2 million from the Rhode Island Capitol Plan Fund to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, over and above any that is already allocated to RIPTA from RICAP, to address that agency’s approved strategic plan.
The sponsors say the bridges should be treated as the statewide resources they are and, for the same reason the initial cost of bridge construction is funded by the whole state, not just those who live near the new bridge, maintenance costs of such bridges should be shared by the whole state.
Both bills were introduced Thursday. The House bill (2013-H 6210) is cosponsored by Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton), Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth) and Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren). The Senate bill (2013-S 989) is cosponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 11, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Christopher Scott Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol), and Sen. David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).