Experts for Portsmouth: Federal law prohibits Sakonnet Bridge toll

Experts for Portsmouth: Federal law prohibits Sakonnet Bridge toll


sakonnet-bridgesPORTSMOUTH/TIVERTON — Federal law prohibits the implementation of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, say two experts whose written testimony has been included in the Town of Portsmouth’s lawsuit to get the toll removed.

Portsmouth Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin, in a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Providence, included the opinion signed by Marcus J. Lemon and Valerie J. Southern.

Mr. Lemon was lead counsel for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) from 2008 to 2009. Ms. Southern was the deputy director of policy to former Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, overseeing statewide policy in transportation, land use and economic development from 1987 to 1990.

“It is our opinion, to a reasonable degrees of certainty in our field of expertise in transportation and FHWA matters, that the Sakonnet River Bridge does not qualify for tolling under 23 U.S.C. § 129 and, therefore, tolls are not permissible on the Sakonnet River Bridge pursuant to the “freedom from tolls” prohibition of 23 U.S.C. § 301,” Mr. Lemon and Ms. Southern wrote in their opinion, citing the specific federal law pertinent to the case.

The crux of their argument is that federal law does not allow tolls on any transportation facility once it has been opened to traffic. The Sakonnet Bridge tolls were implemented in August of this year, but the bridge was opened to traffic nearly a year earlier — in September 2012.

Michael Lewis, director of the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT), has argued that the deadline to implement a toll on the bridge is when the contract with the builder — in this case, Cardi Corp. — is substantially complete. RIDOT still has Cardi under contract.

RIDOT, the opinion states, felt the 10-cent “placeholder” toll was required because federal participation in tolling is prohibited after a project is substantially completed by virtue of federal law.

“However, RIDOT misinterprets when substantial completion occurs, claiming that (it) arrives upon final completion of the project by Cardi with certification by the agency. That is not accurate when looking at the plain language (of federal law),” the opinion states. “We conclude that the bridge was substantially completed upon the date when it was opened to vehicular traffic on Sept. 20, 2012.”

Federal law, the opinion continues, “never mentioned substantial completion at all, and never says that a toll may be imposed ‘at any time,’ much less after ‘substantial completion’ by opening it to vehicular traffic.”

In the Town of Portsmouth’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court, the defendants are listed as Mr. Lewis; Daniel J. Berman, division administrator of FHWA; Victor Mendez, administrator of the FHWA; Buddy Croft, executive director of the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA); as well as RITBA as a whole.


  1. Wow, Portsmouth has brought in some heavy hitters.

    When I read ‘plain language’ used in legalese it means there is nothing vague that could be misconstrued. It’s a dagger in the heart.

    What it also means is that Michael Lewis and RIBTA fouled up big time.

    Other area towns need to chip in with Portsmouth to pay these costs.

    While this probably means a toll on the Mt Hope that means much less traffic for Bristol which is a great thing.

  2. substantially complete is the key words, if a bridge isn’t substantially complete cars and especially large truck should not be allowed over it. Just because it isn’t completely finished and still under contract doesn’t mean that is isn’t substantially complete.

    • It wouldn’t matter if the statute was vague or ambiguous but its plain and clear.

      In fact the term ‘substantially’ does not appear at all in the Federal Statutes listed. That makes me wonder whether the rocket scientists at RIBTA and the RIDOT have even read the statute.

      This appears to be the controlling language:

      (a) Basic Program.—

      (1) Authorization for federal participation.— Subject to the provisions of this section, Federal participation shall be permitted on the same basis and in the same manner as construction of toll-free highways is permitted under this chapter in the—

      (A) initial construction of a toll highway, bridge, or tunnel or approach to the highway, bridge, or tunnel;

      (B) initial construction of 1 or more lanes or other improvements that increase capacity of a highway, bridge, or tunnel (other than a highway on the Interstate System) and conversion of that highway, bridge, or tunnel to a tolled facility, if the number of toll-free lanes, excluding auxiliary lanes, after the construction is not less than the number of toll-free lanes, excluding auxiliary lanes, before the construction;

      (C) initial construction of 1 or more lanes or other improvements that increase the capacity of a highway, bridge, or tunnel on the Interstate System and conversion of that highway, bridge, or tunnel to a tolled facility, if the number of toll-free non-HOV lanes, excluding auxiliary lanes, after such construction is not less than the number of toll-free non-HOV lanes, excluding auxiliary lanes, before such construction;

      (ii) Exclusions.— The term “initial construction” does not include any improvement to a highway, bridge, tunnel, or other facility after it is open to traffic.

      Except as provided in section 129 of this title with respect to
      certain toll bridges and toll tunnels, all highways constructed
      under the provisions of this title shall be free from tolls of all

  3. Good Luck with the Lawsuit. You are never going to beat the State. The Town of Portsmouth is still wasting our money. The State is going to win out every time. Get ready for the big increase in tolls soon by the way. The State is going to slap us in the face even harder to pay for the lawsuit. Just Saying !

    • The State will lose this because first it’s in Federal Court and it’s Federal Law that will decide the case not some law written by the hack lawyers at the GA and overseen by hack Judges sitting on a State Court.

      Read the law it’s written in English and the relevant sections are posted.

      Remember Lewis was FIRED in Massachusetts before he found a warm Government job here and RIBTA hasn’t had to deal with anything like this before. They probably believe they are omnipotent anyway.

  4. I cross that bridge all the time and nobody likes to pay a toll but seriously, it’s 10 cents. You can go back and forth for less than a quarter. I didn’t know there were that many Jewish people crossing that bridge. And if you are that concerned about the toll go spend about 4 bucks on a can of clear coat paint and spray it over your plate. The cameras won’t be able to pick up the numbers on it but it’s only a dime.

    • You do realize that they put the ten cent toll on their as a place mark which they thought would allow them to put much higher tolls on later.

      If you thought that the ten cent was going to be the new toll then you really haven’t been following this for the last 3 years.

    • GOGGLEUSER2, are you uneducated, ignorant, or just plain brain-defective?? What are you talking about “Jewish people”??? No one in their right mind has any view like this toward them in this civilized society…!! Get a clue! What is wrong with you? Oh I know, you’re jealous of their success, like so many other run-of-the-mill dufus-nit-wits. Thanks so much for making our world more positive and realistic! Thanks for being fair and just in your thinking! Next it will be the Poles, then the Portugese, who is next, brilliant nit wit????

  5. There will be a block party from one end to the other if the toll is taken off .
    Still I’ll believe it when I see it . To all involved God’s Speed !