Portsmouth: Bridge toll illegal
The March 15 letter, signed by Town Council President James Seveney and Town Administrator John Klimm, is addressed to Daniel Berman, division administrator, Federal Highway Administrator (FHWA); and Michael Lewis, director of the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT).
The town is basing its latest objection to the tolls on the fact that in 2003, RIDOT's and FHWA's final environmental impact statement (FEIS) regarding the bridge plan "unequivocally and officially eliminated tolling from further considering."
Toll collections were considered as a means to finance construction and maintenance costs in a draft environmental impact statement, but not in the final plan, the letter states.
"Tolling was not considered as an alternative and was not evaluated at all in the FEIS," it states.
Furthermore, in August 2003 FHWA issued a "record of decision" (ROD) on the FEIS. "Since there was strong public opposition to tolling as demonstrated through public hearing comments, additional financing options have been identified in the FEIS. The use of toll collection as a finance means has been eliminated from further consideration at the direction of the Governor of the State of Rhode island. The FHWA and RIDOT have committed to fund this project through Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles," the letter quotes the report as saying.
RIDOT proceeded to design and construct the new bridge, which was opened to the public in September 2012.
Then in January 2013, RIDOT and FHWA issued a "Final EIS Reevaluation Report" which "purports to resurrect tolling" which is contrary to the ROD, according to the letter.
"The Town of Portsmouth has two general positions," states the letter. "First, the town believes ... any tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge are illegal per se."
Second, the letter continued, even if tolling could legally be implemented, the National Environmental Policy Act and applicable federal laws would require that RIDOT and FHWA first complete a formal supplemental environmental impact statement, including public hearings and comment.
The letter ends by asking RIDOT and FHWA to review the town's legal positions and respond by March 31 with their intentions with regard to the toll proposal.