PORTSMOUTH — The prospect of Sakonnet River Bridge tolls has become a campaign issue in the House District 72 (Portsmouth, Middletown) race despite the fact that both candidates are dead set against the tolling plan.
After Republican incumbent Daniel Reilly of Portsmouth penned a letter recently expressing his objections to comments made by Gov. Lincoln Chafee during a visit to Porstmouth, his Democratic challenger, Linda Finn of Middletown, fired back.
“After reading the representative’s letter ... on the issue of tolls on the
Sakonnet Bridge, I was amazed to see so few solutions offered to the current situation," she said. "Instead, we are presented with more rhetoric about how this is a problem and once again our community is being abused by our State House leaders."
"He was writing as if he was a citizen, not one who is in a position of power in the legislature," Ms. Finn said. "He is ranting and raving about what happened but he is on the finance committee ... Waiting until the problem has arrived, and not working to identify improvements necessary in our state is not leadership.
"I am not entirely sure what she is talking about," Mr. Reilly countered on Saturday.
"I ended my letter with a clear alternative to the transportation funding problem that our state faces. I do believe that, in solving a $10-15 million maintenance funding shortfall for local area bridges, which combined represent 20 percent of the state's bridge deck, we can more than adequately fund these needs by dedicating a greater share if not all of the vehicle registration and driver license revenue taken in by the state. This represents an extra $42 million in funding that is currently going into the black hole known as the general fund. I think it is more than reasonable that the fees paid to register our cars support the very roads and bridges our cars drive on."
It is Ms. Finn, not he, who is short on toll alternatives, Mr. Reilly said.
My letter, "clearly lays out the problem and details a proposed solution, which she has made no effort of even acknowledging, let alone responding to."
Ms. Finn said she fears it may be too late to change minds upstate. The bridge has been transferred" to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
She said she believes "creative" alternatives, such as "changing the funding of the RI Turnpike and Bridge Authority to be able to qualify for federal grants" (which other states across our great nation are able to do and do successfully), or offset the cost of the tolls on middle class families and seniors with a tax break for local residents."
"Her recommended solution of finding 'federal grants' to satisfy this problem is puzzling and represents a rather elementary familiarity with methods of transportation funding," Mr. Reilly replied. "What 'grants' is she talking about? Seeing as how the state is 49th in the nation in the proportion of its state highway budget that comes from federal money, what additional funding does she think we are leaving on the table?"