Letter: Governor Failed to Answer Residents' Bridge Toll Questions

Reilly responds to Governor's visit to Newport County

The following is a letter to the editor. 

The Governor’s recent visit to Portsmouth to discuss how the state can help businesses grow was unsurprisingly concerned mostly with the Governor’s plan to place tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

Unfortunately for those in attendance, I feel that the visit left us with more questions than answers.

The Governor and his Director of Transportation, Michael Lewis, explained some of the reasoning behind the Governor’s decision to put tolls on the bridge, authorized by this current year’s budget. However, I am still confused as to why a statewide transportation financing problem must be solved by placing such a heavy burden on local area residents and businesses.

Director Lewis stated that, without changes, the largest bridges in the area – the Jamestown, Mount Hope, and the new Sakonnet River Bridge – will cost the Department of Transportation 10% of the state DOT highway and bridge maintenance budget. However, seeing as how the four major area bridges represent roughly 20% of the state’s total bridge deck, I fail to see how this is an inequitable share of the maintenance budget.

Other questions remained unanswered, including how the “East Bay Infrastructure Fund,” funded with excess toll revenue, will not simply be an excuse for the Governor and politicians from Providence who proposed tolls in the first place to simply deprive local communities from projects that would otherwise be funded by the gas tax – which we all pay into. I find it incomprehensible that the Governor and his DOT feel it necessary to now conduct studies on economic impact and possible toll rates.

In other words, he had no problem having legislators vote on a proposal with no specifics, but now wants to know more. Regardless, what is the point of studying anything at this point? The decisions on what the toll rate should be are now in the hands of the unelected board of directors of the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which has absolutely no statutory representation for Aquidneck Island or Newport County communities.

I attempted to amend the budget this year to at least provide for that – yet was provided with no explanation as to why that change could not be made.

At the end of the day, the plan to toll the Sakonnet River Bridge is incredibly inequitable when local residents will still be paying the gas tax, which supports not only the bonds used to build the new bridge but for many shiny, new projects across the state – none of which will be tolled.

Newport County is again being used as the ATM for the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly, which expects us to pay twice for the bridges we cross. A statewide transportation funding problem requires a statewide transportation funding solution. Why should we pay tolls on our bridges when our vehicle registration fees go only into the black hole known as the general fund? Vehicle registration fees, if dedicated completely to highway and bridge maintenance, would provide for an infusion worth more than $40 million each year to maintaining roads and bridges.

That is more than enough to support the estimated $5-15 million needed to support the state’s largest bridges, which are located right here in Newport County.

Does it not seem logical that the fees we pay to register our cars go to supporting the roads and bridges we drive our cars on?

In the end, we don’t need more revenue - we need to reassess our priorities within our current budget and start to properly fund highway and bridge maintenance in the Ocean State.

-Rep. Daniel P. Reilly

Joe Sousa. September 17, 2012 at 10:08 AM
-Rep. Daniel P. Reilly needs to be reelected to continue the fight against the oppressive tax and spend majority . He has a plan and it will solve the problem with our support. We have an eight billion dollar budget in this little state of a million people . It's time to put the money where it belongs. They have allowed our infrastructure to crumble while funding wasteful social programs and legislative grants. Time for a conservative approach
Robert E September 17, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Dan maybe you could find out some things for us. The prospect has been raised that the new bridge might have some major structual problems. The last I herd was that the bridge was sinking into the river bottom causing cracks in the road surface. I have noticed that work on this already over due bridge has ground to a hault. Could you use your contacts to get some accurate information for us? If the new bridge falls down then tolls won't matter. Thank you.
Quahaug Nation September 17, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Two points: I hope they don't tear down the old bridge until we know if the new one is going to collapse. Not that I don't trust RIDOT "oversight" of this project, but remember when the new Jamestown Bridge was delayed for months because the east and west spans didn't quite meet up in the middle? And why are we surprised that Newport County is the ATM for the rest of the state? Rep. Dan Reilly is absolutely correct when he says that we are paying way more than our fair share of the state's infrastructure costs. Now, what do we do about it?
Jim L September 17, 2012 at 06:55 PM
First If Paiva weed and the other dems get relected(they shouldn't be) since she is head of the senate she puts in a bill that say REDACT the power to toll or nothing leaves my desk, PERIOD, that simple, better yet hate to say it but toss them all, IF the 7 reps on Newport county had voted no on the budget they could have done this also, BUT IT WAS A DONE DEAL, we are told, well with 19,000.00 thousand voters and still raising I thing something or someone made a done deal mistake NO TOLLS
Dan Reilly September 18, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Robert - Sorry for the late reply but I did forward that question to RIDOT to see if there is a good explanation for you. Best, Dan Reilly
Robert E September 18, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Quahaug Nation September 19, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Rep. Reilly not only voted against the budget, but also voted against the tolls as a member of the House Finance Committee.


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