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Portsmouth opposes transfer of bridges’ oversight to RIDOT

Council says management, revenues should stay under RITBA’s control

By Jim McGaw
Posted 7/28/20

PORTSMOUTH — Joining the City of Newport, the Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to oppose any attempt to transfer oversight of the four major bridges connecting Aquidneck and …

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Portsmouth opposes transfer of bridges’ oversight to RIDOT

Council says management, revenues should stay under RITBA’s control

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Joining the City of Newport, the Town Council Monday night voted unanimously to oppose any attempt to transfer oversight of the four major bridges connecting Aquidneck and Conanicut islands from the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) to the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT). 

“There is concern this could end up in our budget and as that will come up very quickly, we don’t have a lot of time,” said State Rep. Terri Cortvriend (District 72).

Officials who oppose the move are concerned that proposed Rhode Island state legislation or provisions in the state budget may move RITBA revenues and management authority over the four major bridges to RIDOT. Rep. Cortvriend brought the matter to the attention of Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa, who put a proposed resolution on Monday’s agenda for action.

RITBA collects and uses dedicated revenue to operate and maintain the Mount Hope Bridge, the Sakonnet River Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, Route 138 through Jamestown, and the Newport Pell Bridge.

According to the resolution, “RITBA has been keeping the four largest bridges in the state safe for vehicular travel and maintained in sound condition, (and) has received honors from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.”

In comparison, it continued, RIDOT owns and maintains all the state’s secondary bridges and in 2019, (Rhode Island) was deemed to have the worst bridges in America by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, i.e., out of 780 bridges, 23.1 percent were structurally deficient and 721, or 92 percent, were in need of some repair.”

On July 22, the Newport City Council unanimously passed a similar resolution opposing any transfer.

“Our bridges are our lifeblood,” Rep. Cortvriend said, adding it would behoove the town that the spans’ current management and funding be retained. 

Council member Keith Hamilton said any transfer of management sounds like a “money grab” by RIDOT, adding it would make it easier for the department “to toll the rest of Rhode Island.”

The council voted 6-0 to approve the resolution. Council President Kevin Aguiar, an engineering consultant who often deals with state transportation projects, recused himself from the vote. 

A copy of the resolution will be be forwarded to RITBA, every Rhode Island municipality, every state legislator, the governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer and secretary of state.

In other business Monday night:

Conservancy to take over lighthouse

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. told the council that Prudence Island Light, also known as Sandy Point Lighthouse, has been determined by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to be excess property no longer needed by the federal government.

Located on about two acres on the east side of the island, the property is being made available at no cost to eligible entities, and it will be sold if not transferred to a public body or nonprofit organization, he said.

Since the nonprofit Prudence Conservancy is the lighthouse’s current tenant under USCG license, that group would be the ideal steward of the property, said Mr. Rainer. The council voted 7-0 to follow the administrator’s recommendation to endorse a letter of interest application to be made by the Conservancy to take over the lighthouse.

“Thank you,” said Raymond Jenness, chairman of the Prudence Conservancy.

Foundation to take over school

In another matter related to surplus property on the island, the council voted unanimously to authorize the transfer of the Prudence Island School property to the nonprofit Prudence Island School Foundation. 

The Portsmouth School Department no longer occupies or uses the property, which is considered surplus. The General Assembly enacted legislation authorizing its transfer to the Foundation.

Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin said the transfer was supposed to have been completed last fall, but an archaic state law complicated things. The matter has since been resolved, he said.

Playgrounds open Aug. 1

Mr. Rainer reported the town’s playgrounds will re-open on Aug. 1, with signs reminding visitors to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines by wearing face coverings when appropriate, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding crowds. The Department of Public Works will sanitize equipment, Mr. Rainer said.

He also reminded residents that the town’s Emergency Food Bank is relocating from St. Barnabas Church to St. John's Lodge on Sprague Street effective Wednesday, July 29. The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays for food distribution and donations.

The Portsmouth Free Public Library is also open to the public, although patrons are asked to limit their visit to 30 minutes. The Book Nook is open for purchases, but not donations at this time.

Home rule questions approved

The council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing 12 questions on the November ballot, asking voters to endorse changes to the Home Rule Charter. 

Those questions can be found here.

School re-opening

Mr. Aguiar reminded residents the school district will be hosting a virtual forum beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, regarding Portsmouth’s plan for reopening the schools.

He also urged families to fill out and submit the transportation survey that was mailed out to everyone in the district.

More information can be found at portsmouthschoolsri.org.

Licenses approved

The council, sitting as the Board of License Commissioners, approved two Class F1 daily liquor licenses to the Island Park Preservation Society for fund-raisers to be held at Thriving Tree Coffee House, 706 Park Ave.

The first will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23, the second from noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6. 

The board also granted new victualler and holiday licenses to Progasco Operating I, LLC, doing business as sandwich shop Neon Marketplace, 3302 East Main Road (in the Patriot Petroleum plaza).

African-American education

The council unanimously approved a resolution recognizing and honoring African-American history in Rhode Island, and urging the adoption of African-American education in Rhode Island’s schools, kindergarten through grade 12, starting in the 2021-2022 academic year. 

The resolution was put on the agenda by council member Andrew Kelly.

Appointments

The council voted unanimously to re-appoint Robert J. Andrews to the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, and to appoint Ronald J. Harnois to the Housing Authority.

Upcoming meetings

The council will hold virtual meetings starting at 7 p.m. on the following dates:

• Tuesday, Aug. 11

• Monday, Aug. 24

• Monday, Aug. 14

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