To the editor:
The facts about planned tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge are undeniable: it’s one of the most destructive, unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and anti-business actions our state government could have concocted. Yet, despite near-universal opposition from area officials, businesses and residents, tolls are looming. Why? What’s become clear is that this is a political problem requiring a political solution.
We’re told the tolls are necessary to fund maintenance of the new bridge, which costs $2 million/year. But RI Turnpike & Bridge Authority plans to collect $20 million/year in tolls; 90 percent will go to fund RITBA operations that have nothing to do with the bridge. There are several responsible proposals in the General Assembly to fund maintenance without tolls, as in the rest of RI. Beyond using East Bay residents as a piggybank to fund RITBA, there is no logical rationale for these tolls, but there is tremendous downside for the East Bay and the state.
Anyone needing to cross the bridge daily will be “taxed” $500/year, including businesses and their employees (when both spouses cross daily, it’s a $1,000 family tax). An area reliant on out-of-state customers and tourists will lose much of that revenue as many refuse the absurd $10.50 cost of a round-trip. Already-congested roads in Bristol County will get worse as drivers use the Mt. Hope Bridge to avoid tolls. The state will lose a major source of revenue when Newport Grand patrons go elsewhere. And the state’s anti-business image, which state leaders want to reverse, will be reinforced.
Either our state leaders don’t understand the consequences of these tolls, or aren’t concerned with the East Bay. They have an opportunity now to do the right thing and support budget bills that would rescind the tolls. If they fail to do so, it’s up to us as voters to elect new leaders. This issue is important enough to create many single-issue voters.
“Voters Against Sakonnet Tolls” (VAST) is a non-partisan, grassroots effort, uniting RI voters in pledging to vote only for candidates who actively oppose these tolls. This issue crosses all political views and parties. Voting in a unified way, we can be a deciding factor in statewide races, especially low-turnout primaries. To get involved, visit www.sakonnettolls.blogspot.com or search “Voters Against Sakonnet Tolls” on Facebook. And spread the word; there is strength in numbers.
East Bay voters have long memories and this issue isn’t going away. Politicians considering a statewide candidacy at some point will be held accountable for how they acted in our time of need. State government should be responsive to the people, and working on a responsible way to fund infrastructure without destructive tolls, not making things worse.