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House to Vote on Sakonnet Bridge Toll Today

The House of Representatives will vote on the 2013 budget bill on Thursday. Included in the bill is a proposal to toll the Sakonnet Bridge.

Legislators are scheduled to vote today on the budget bill for fiscal year 2013, which  includes a provision to toll travelers that cross the Sakonnet Bridge.

State Senator Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) has said the toll will hurt local businesses and residents, which is why he is not in favor of the proposal.

Dipalma stated he is not optimistic about Thursday's outcome. East Bay representatives are a small percentage of the 75-member House.

The House will vote on the budget one article at a time, which will allow for debate and amendment to the individual components. The Senate will vote on the budget as a package.

“It’s a challenging situation,” said the senator.

If passed, the maintenance of Sakonnet River Bridge and Jamestown Bridge would be transferred from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to the Rhode Island Bridge and Transportation Authority (RIBTA).

The RIBTA is a quasi-governmental agency that is currently responsible for the maintenance of the Newport Bridge as well as the Mount Hope Bridge. The RIBTA funds the operating expenses through tolls on the Newport Bridge.

They are the only bridges in the state that are not maintained by RIDOT.

“[The state] does not have sufficient financial resources to assure the future maintenance and operation of the Sakonnet River Bridge,” reads the bill.

DiPalma said the Mount Hope Bridge and Newport Bridge are in good condition, but the state has not maintained the old Sakonnet River Bridge. .

“If the bridge was maintained, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.

, Rep. Daniel Reilly spoke out against the provision and said it would impose an unfair tax on Aquidneck Island residents.

“This will have an adverse impact on residents who use the bridge on a regular basis, harm local businesses both in terms of transporting goods and hurting the island’s tourism based economy,” Reilly told the committee.

Middletown Town Council President Arthur Weber agreed the toll will have a negative impact on the community.

“It holds everyone hostage on the island with tolls required for the major entrance and egresses and will penalize all without an E-Z Pass,” said Weber. 

DiPalma said it boils down to a matter of what is fair, and the proposal does not fix that issue.

The bill reads, “The current toll structure places undue burden on the residents, businesses, and visitors who must use the Newport Bridge to access work, schools, shopping, and other essential services.” 

DiPalma said the only positive aspect of the proposal is that extra toll revenue would be appropriated to road work in other cities and towns in the East Bay. He said approximately 40 percent of the Sakonnet Bridge traffic is out-of-state travelers.  

Reilly disagreed the appropriations would work out in the favor of Aquidneck Island residents.

“It is not fair for residents of Middletown and Portsmouth to pay tolls that could subsidize road work in towns as far away as Jamestown, Warren or Barrington,” said Reilly.

Once the bill is approved by the House of Representatives, it will be passed to the Senate.

Mark D June 07, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Toll all 4 bridges but make the toll amount 1/4 of the current amount that would be fair. Most people don't cross two bridges in one shot except the Newport and Jamestown bridges. But they would still be paying less than they are now. Also a reasonable cap should be put in place to protect commuters. Like $30 per month per vehicle.
TryingForGreen June 07, 2012 at 11:58 AM
I think Aquidneck Island residents should be exempt from the toll entirely. I used to live in Portsmouth and am glad I never had to decide whether going off the island was worth paying the toll twice. I would have stayed home a lot more.
Jim June 07, 2012 at 12:09 PM
"DiPalma said the Mount Hope Bridge and Newport Bridge are in good condition" Hmmm....I guess he doesn't cross these often? A toll on the Sakonnet River bridge is going to cause a ridiculous amount of traffic during rush hour. Also, it's a tremendous financial burden on commuters in an already burdened state. If you ask me this is what's best for RIBTA...NOT the state. They've got there own agenda.
Shades of Gray June 08, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Bridge tolls are a bunch of balony! Why are bridges any different than maintaining roadways all over the state? We pay state taxes to maintain the roadways statewide, so why don't those taxes get applied to the bridges as well? It shouldn't matter if the road goes over a bridge or not. It's part of the state system.
Dylan June 09, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Why not just annex Little Compton and Tiverton to Mass since by doing this their cutting us off from the state they'll loose tax dollars because we'll be doing all our shopping dinning in mass and kill the businesses on Aquidneck island

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