Portsmouth seeks toll refund

A car passes under the Sakonnet River Bridge gantry on June 20 — the last day tolls were collected.  Photo by Jim McGaw. A car passes under the Sakonnet River Bridge gantry on June 20 — the last day tolls were collected. Photo by Jim McGaw.

PORTSMOUTH — Now that a toll has been eliminated from the Sakonnet River Bridge, the Town of Portsmouth is going after the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) for reimbursement of the “illegal” levy collected, which is said to be approaching a total of $1 million.

The town first filed suit in U.S. District Court of Rhode Island back in April 2013 to get the toll squashed. The town is seeking a legal determination and declaratory judgment that tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge are illegal under the “freedom from tolls” provision of the Federal-Aid Highway Act, and a permanent injunction against defendants preventing the collection of tolls.

Listed as defendants are Michael P. Lewis of the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT); Daniel J. Berman, division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (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.

Last month, however, the R.I. General Assembly passed a budget that reversed tolling on the bridge, which was officially halted on June 20.

That wasn’t enough for The Town of Portsmouth, however.

On Sunday afternoon, Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin electronically filed a memorandum in federal court seeking the following:

• first, that RITBA “be ordered to disgorge and make restitution of all tolls illegally charged and collected from motorists crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge; and

• “that Portsmouth be allowed to recoup all its legal fees and expenses incurred in connection with this action under the common fund doctrine.”

According to the document filed with the federal court Sunday, Mr. Croft stated under oath — in response to a preliminary injunction that Portsmouth had sought to prevent the toll — that “RITBA could easily determine every account (EZ-Pass and non-EZ-Pass) paying such tolls, and provide a refund of all tolls collected if the toll was later determined by the Court to be illegal.

“Thus, it was the defendants themselves who initially suggested that restitution and disgorgement of tolls was an appropriate alternative to the granting preliminary injunctive relief.”

Portsmouth’s motion for a preliminary injunction was denied and RITBA collected 10-cent tolls from Aug. 19, 2013 to June 20, 2014.

“It has been reported that during this period RITBA charged and/or collected tolls approaching $1 million,” states the memorandum filed by the Town of Portsmouth.

The town is proposing “an award of attorneys’ fees based on (a third) of the total amount of tolls charged and collected (and to be collected) by RITBA, plus expert witness fees and other costs and expenses incurred by Portsmouth in connection with this litigation.”

The balance of the tolls, according to the memorandum, “should be refunded to all persons who paid them on a pro rata basis.”

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One Comment;

  1. Tony Viveiros said:

    Antone Viveiros 110 Indian Hill Road Middletown, RI 02842 Phone 401-855-1846
    Letter to the Editor July 1, 2014 Sakonnet Times P.O. Box 90 Bristol, RI 02809
    Subject: Removal of the Sakonnet Bridge Toll

    In response to the Sakonnet Times article entitled Savoring victory on the Sakonnet Bridge, appearing on June 26, 2014. I congratulate Mr. Jim Lippi for gathering signatures from people opposed to the toll on the Sakonnet Bridge, and Mr. John Vitkevich for the work he has done in exposing the miss management of the Road Island Transportation and Bridge Authority. There will be as always, people and groups, stepping forward to grab the limelight, so let me tell you where the heavy lifting actually took place.

    The two-year long battle to reverse the Assembly’s June 2012 decision to toll the Sakonnet Bridge came to an end on Friday June 20, 2014. I want to give Special thanks to all the following civic organizations that formed the Sakonnet Tolls Opposition Platform (STOP): Committee. And to all their representatives, who attended meetings every Thursday for almost two years. The Concerned Island Taxpayers – East Bay Patriots – Little Compton Taxpayers Association – Ocean State Taxpayers in Action – Portsmouth Business Association – Portsmouth Concerned Citizens. Also the Sakonnet Bay Retirement Living in Tiverton, for providing meeting space. The 31,333 signatures of a petition started by Jeanne and Jim Smith, in opposition to the toll, helping to rally the people of East Bay, and who organized a fundraiser that financed too buss trips to take people to the RI Statehouse, to attend House and Senate Finance Committee Hearings, purchase banners and yard signs. Jody Sullivan, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. All the people, that sent letters and e-mails, to there Representatives, Senators, and the General Assembly leadership.
    All of the East Bay Legislators worked hard to reverse this decision, with the exception of two Representatives from Newport and Jamestown.
    Senator DiPalma of Middletown and Little Compton, working with Representative Jay Edwards of Tiverton and Portsmouth produced what eventually became the winning framework for success: a statewide solution that provided for a Transportation Fund producing increased funding for bridges and highways and removal of the Sakonnet tolls. The effort was strongly supported by Rep. Gallison of Bristol and Portsmouth, Rep. Marshall of Bristol, Rep. Canario of Portsmouth and Tiverton, Rep. Linda Finn of Portsmouth and Middletown, Antonio Giarrusso of East Greenwich and West Greenwich, and Rep. Marvin Abney of Middletown and Newport. Senators Felag of Warren and Bristol, Senator Ottiano of Portsmouth and Bristol and Senator Bates of Barrington and Bristol also provided strong support in the Assembly. The East Bay Legislators remained focused and determined to the end. ` Finally: Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Theresa Paiva Weed, for realizing that Article 20 was a mistake, and passing Article 21, which removes the toll on the Sakonnet bridge, kept the present toll rate on the Newport Bridge, and created an infrastructure fund, to maintain and repair all of the roads and bridges in Rhode Island.
    Thank you, Antone C. Viveiros Chairman, Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform (STOP) Committee

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