TIVERTON — Minutes after convening for its regular meeting Tuesday night at 7 p.m., and after moving the matter to the top of its agenda, Tiverton’s Town Council voted unanimously to join the lawsuit that Portsmouth has filed challenging the legality of tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge.
Tiverton’s vote followed close on the heels of a similar vote by Bristol’s town council in recent days.
The Tiverton Council’s action, technically a request to intervene in the lawsuit, was taken with a sense of urgency. A conference before the federal judge is scheduled for 3 p.m. today, Wednesday, May 29, in the Federal District Court in Providence.
The judge today will be considering the scheduling for the temporary restraining order the towns are seeking, and the question of whether to allow the Town of Tiverton to intervene in the action.
Pleadings had already been prepared by Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz and were being held in his Providence offices awaiting the council action. Immediately after the vote Tuesday night, about 7:15, Mr. Teitz texted his office and the Motion to Intervene and supporting paperwork were e-filed with the court and to opposing council.
“We strongly urge that the town join in this litigation,” Mr. Teitz advised the council just before it voted. Bristol’s Council had recently done so, unanimously.
Mr. Teitz is also town solicitor for the Town of Bristol. That being so, legal fees for each town’s participation in the litigation will be shared 50/50, at approximately $87 per hour.
In supporting the vote to intervene, Tiverton Council President Ed Roderick said the town had done everything possible to make sure that “Smith Hill,” referring to officials in the State Capital — the Governor’s office and the legislature — heard the concerns of the citizens of Tiverton, Portsmouth and Bristol.
“We need to move forward on this,” he said of the proposal to intervene in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that the tolls are illegal and an injunction preventing their imposition.
The basis for the lawsuit is that in 2003, when the idea of tolling on the proposed new Sakonnet River Bridge was first considered, opposition to tolls was so strong that — following extensive public hearings — a decision was made by both the State of Rhode Island and the Federal Highway Administration to eliminate tolls as a means of financing the bridge or its maintenance.
That was then the final decision, and that now ten-year-old decision, and the environmental impact statement that accompanied it, the lawsuit contends, has never been properly revisited or amended, notwithstanding current decisions by the federal and state agencies.
The lawsuit, now being brought by the three towns — Portsmouth, Bristol and Tiverton — names the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), and their executive directors, as defendants.