PROVIDENCE – Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox and President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed announced their appointments to the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Funding for Bridges today.
Senate members of the commission will include Senate Finance Chairman Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Senators Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Christopher S. Ottiano (R-Dist.11, Portsmouth, Bristol). House members will include House Finance Chairman Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), and Representatives John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Antonio Giarrusso (R-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich).
The three remaining members of the special legislative commission will be the Department of Transportation Director Michael Lewis, or a designee; Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) Executive Director Buddy Croft, or a designee; and Department of Administration Director Richard Licht, or a designee.
Last year, the General Assembly approved a provision in the budget transferring the ownership of the Sakonnet River Bridge, which connects Tiverton and Portsmouth, to RITBA so that a toll could be placed on the bridge. Since then, a majority of the East Bay delegation and members of their communities have been vying for an equitable alternative to the tolls in order to maintain the area’s infrastructure and protect Aquidneck Island businesses.
Legislation approved this year calls for the creation of the special legislative commission, which will allow lawmakers and officials from the affected state departments and agencies to come together for six months and map out various funding plans, potentially eradicating the need for a Sakonnet Bridge toll. The special legislative panel will not only study ways to fund East Bay bridges, but also seek a funding mechanism for all state bridges. The commission is required to report its findings to the General Assembly on or before Jan. 15, 2014.
Additionally, RITBA will have the authority to implement a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge in August so it can preserve future tolling options for the bridge while the commission works to find alternatives. The 10-cent toll cap will be in effect until April 1, 2014.