Director Michael P. Lewis of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) ended Tuesday's toll hearing just after midnight, cutting off commentary from several speakers.
The . The informational public hearing was conducted as part of the DOT's evaluation of the environmental impact a toll would have on the community, businesses and surrounding infrastructure and will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) by the end of January 2013.
"The meeting was advertised until 10 p.m. and the meeting the night before ended around 10:30 or 10:45 p.m.," said Charles St. Martin, an information and public relations specialist for the DOT. "Last night went longer."
Outspoken toll opponent and member of the Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform (STOP) Robert Coulter, chided Lewis and the DOT for ending the meeting without allowing all speakers to be heard, as Tiverton-Little Compton Patch reported Lewis promised at the beginning of the meeting.
"Lewis, despite promising to stay as long as it took to me, Chee [Laureano, chairwoman of Tiverton STOP], [Tiverton Town Council President Edward] Roderick, and [Councilman Jay J.] Lambert in a meeting last week, and saying it again tonight as you reported, cut off comment at the microphone and packed up before I and others could speak," said Coulter last night after the hearing. "I am concerned because they packed up, there is no record of this and we need a record for the federal challenge."
Lewis was in meetings on Wednesday afternoon and not available for comment, a request for comment was submitted by Patch and is expected tomorrow.
According to St. Martin, the stenographer packed up the recording materials, but Lewis and other DOT personnel stayed to discuss residents' concerns.
The DOT will be accepting written commentary through the end of its evaluation period until materials are submitted to the FHWA.
Interested residents may download a comment form or fill out an electronic version for submission to the DOT. Comment can also be addressed without the form to RIDOT's Customer service at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing to the address below:
Rhode Island Department of Transportation
Attn: Office of Customer Service
2 Capitol Hill
Providence, RI 02903
The effect of toll costs on individuals was a focus of Tuesday's dialogue.
Ellen Tavares, a self-employed caregiver said she drives across the Sakonnet River Bridge a minimum of four times a day during the work week.
"At five days a week, 52 days a year, just to work at about $1 a trip it will cost me over $1,000 a year," said Tavares. "Why is is fair for our small area of Rhode Island to bare the cost and upkeep of all the bridges and roads in our state?"
School Committeewoman Deborah Pallasch said the DOT was rushing through its environmental impact analysis without any real concern for the unintended costs the tolls would cause.
"I am extremely frustrated that we did not have enough time to really study the impacts these tolls will have on the services we provide [to Tiverton schools]," said Pallasch.
Many complained it was unfair that Newport County would be singled out in supporting the maintenance costs for it's two major bridges - the arteries for one of Rhode Island's biggest tourist destinations.
"We live on toll island," said Portsmouth resident Randy Martin before the hearing, greeting the public at the door to Tiverton High School with a pair of witty anti-toll signs. "With the way we are going now, proposing more and more tolls, we are not going to live in Rhode Island anymore. We might as well change the name and call us 'Toll Island.'"
The DOT is not responsible for setting a toll rate on the Sakonnet River Bridge. If the toll is approved by the FHWA after its reevaluation of the environmental impact survey, ownership of the bridge will transfer to the state Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA).
Transfer of the Sakonnet and Jamestown bridges will only be accepted by the RITBA if an adequate source of funding is secured - such as the tolls. No one from the RITBA was available to comment on Wednesday afternoon as to whether the public would be invited to participate in the setting a toll rate should the FHWA approve tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge. According to the DOT, $38 million would need to be raised annually through tolls to support the RITBA's four bridges.