STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today passed legislation (2014-S 2697A) extending the date until which the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) must continue using a 10-cent cap on the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), was sent to the governor’s office for a signature after a final vote of 68 to 2 in the House. Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) sponsored the duplicate House bill (2014-H 7569aa).
Gov. Lincoln Chafee took no action on the bills, his office announced Tuesday evening.
The legislation extends the 10-cent cap on the bridge toll from April 1 to May 15. Initially, the 10-cent toll was implemented as a placeholder in order to preserve future tolling options for the bridge and secure a potential revenue stream for the state while it considered an alternative funding plan during the 2014 legislative session.
Lawmakers introduced the legislation extending the cap in order to accommodate a full vetting process for other bills — some of which stemmed from discussions from the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding for East Bay Bridges formed last year — that offer equitable alternatives to Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. One of those options is a transportation proposal (2014-H 7432, 2014-S 2335) aiming to create a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges.
Under this formula, 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).
For almost two years, East Bay lawmakers have been exploring ways to ensure Aquidneck Island’s economic vitality stays intact, which many argued a Sakonnet bridge toll could seriously endanger. In 2012, the General Assembly included a measure in the final approval of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget that turned over the Sakonnet and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to RITBA.
An August 2013 completion date on the construction of the new Sakonnet River Bridge complicated the issue of the tolls; since federal regulations only allow tolling on a bridge if it commences before substantial completion of a bridge project, the Assembly took action during the 2013 legislative session to approve a compromise that would use a 10-cent toll cap as a placeholder until April 2014.
Senators Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), Christopher S. Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol) and David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) are co-sponsors for the Senate legislation pushing back the toll deadline.
Co-sponsors of the House bill are House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston), Rep. Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston), Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Rep. Donald J. Lally Jr. (D-Dist. 33, Narragansett, South Kingstown).