Unless the General Assembly passes an amendment today that would push back the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls until at least April 2014, the chairman of the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) says the gantry will be activated on July 10.
As reported earlier, East Bay lawmakers prevailed Tuesday in their efforts to gain full House discussion of a bid to delay the tolls until next spring. State Rep. Raymond Gallison of Bristol and Portsmouth said he was “100 percent confident” the budget amendment will be passed.
Reached Wednesday morning, Rep. John G. Edwards, representing District 70 in Portsmouth and Tiverton, said the amendment would give lawmakers until now and Jan. 15 to form a committee to come up with a plan. “That gives us, I think, ample time if we all negotiate cooperatively,” he said.
The committee would be made up the chairman of the House and Senate finance committees, two state representatives, two state senators, the director of the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), the director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, the director of the R.I. Department of Administration “or their designees,” Rep. Edwards said.
“I’ve been guardedly optimistic throughout this whole process. My constituents really need this,” he said, adding that everyone in the East Bay has been fighting the “horrendous tolls.”
On Wednesday, RITBA Chairman David Darlington said the Authority’s board of trustees decided that morning to activate the Sakonnet Bridge toll gantry on Wednesday, July 10. That could change depending on what the Assembly voted later that day, said Mr. Darlington, who’s heard nothing but “speculation” on what the amendment will mean.
“I haven’t seen a copy of the bill. I haven’t had any official communication from anybody of what the intent is,” said Mr. Darlington.
It’s the General Assembly’s prerogative to form a commission to study funding options, but delaying the tolls will put RITBA in a bind, he said.
“It creates a whole host of problems for us financially as well as for maintenance,” he said, noting that delaying the tolls would mean a serious budget shortfall for the Authority. “We have security requirements to maintain the structure, and also fiduciary requirements so that our bond-holders are taken care of.”
RITBA’s board of trustees is expected to meet Wednesday, July 3, to decide what, if any, action needs to be taken in response to any legislative action regarding the tolls.