To the editor:
At a time when the need for long-term strategic economic development planning is the major topic of discussion by our state legislators, businesses and residents alike, it is difficult to understand how the expansion of tolls is consistent with any long-term vision of economic development or maintenance of our crumbling transportation infrastructure. This easy way out quick fix, requiring a select group of Rhode Island residents and bridge users to pay for the maintenance of not only the bridge(s) they use, but also the other bridges and transportation infrastructure throughout the East Bay, is flawed on numerous levels.
First, this action creates a dangerous precedent for requiring Rhode Island residents to pay as you go. Second, it is an inequitable assessment of a small group to support the transportation needs of a much larger population. Third, and perhaps most frightening, it ignores the future inevitable day when the Department of Transportation (DOT) runs out of money to maintain the roads and bridges throughout Rhode island.
An increase in tolls will have a dramatic negative effect on job creation and the cost of living for thousands of Rhode Island residents and businesses. It will make it difficult for many Rhode Island businesses to remain cost competitive. The hospitality, defense and marine trades industries are key economic drivers for our region and for the entire state. Their ability to attract and retain a quality workforce will be made more difficult with the added cost to commute placed on their workers.
There is a widespread misconception throughout Rhode Island that Aquidneck Island and the East Bay are affluent communities with the Newport mansions and the hospitality industry at its heart. Many Rhode Islanders do not know that Newport is the fifth-poorest urban community in Rhode Island. The reality of being surrounded by such natural beauty is that many employees of the region cannot afford to live where they work and so must commute from the surrounding communities where the cost of housing is more affordable.
The Board of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce has publicly been working against the expansion of any tolling in Rhode Island for well over a year. Most recently the board passed a resolution supporting Sen. Lou DiPalma’s Senate Bill 0242 (cosponsored by Felag, Ottiano, Bates and Paiva Weed). This bill is unique. Not only does it propose legislation that prohibits the expansion of tolls to the Sakonnet, Mt. Hope and Jamestown bridges, it also freezes the current rate on the Newport Bridge, and most importantly, it identifies an alternate funding stream from the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a dedicated bridge maintenance fund and also increases revenue to our sorely underfunded DOT.
For the future safety and maintenance of our entire transportation infrastructure we need to identify funding from vehicle related revenue, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and the gas tax, for the long-term maintenance our roads and bridges.
While there are a number of bills being introduced to prevent the expansion of tolls, only Sen. DiPalma’s bill presents a long-term sustainable funding mechanism for both the bridges and DOT.. It is easy to say “no tolls,” however we then need to say how we can maintain and pay for the future health of our roads and bridges. It is unfair to require residents from one part of our state to pay for the maintenance of their infrastructure when all the other roads and bridges are paid for by all of us. Please contact your legislators to let them know that tolls are not the solution to the state’s transportation funding problems and to support Senate Bill 0242.
On behalf of the thousands of Rhode Island businesses and residents that will be negatively impacted by the expansion of tolls to the Sakonnet River Bridge, we ask you to support this legislation. If Rhode Islanders fail in this fight you can be absolutely positive that there will be a toll coming to a neighborhood near you in the not too distant future.
Jody Sullivan, executive director
Newport County Chamber of Commerce