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Toll Protesters, Business Owners Meet Gov. Lincoln Chafee

Gov. Lincoln Chafee visited Portsmouth Town Hall on Thursday.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee visited Portsmouth Town Hall on Thursday to discuss "fiscal responsibility." He was met by a dozen outside, while more than 100 residents and politicians waited inside Town Hall. 

Featured here is a report of the meeting. 

8:45 a.m. — Gov. Lincoln Chafee arrives. Audience member yells, "Don't shake his hand. He's selling us out." Town Council President Joe Robicheau gives introductions. 

Chafee gives opening remarks. The governor says, "for the first time in 20 years," voters will not see a transportation bond on the election ballot. 

8:49 — Tiverton business owner asking questions to Chafee at the moment. "Why do Aquidneck Island residents have to pay," owner asks. Michael Lewis, director of the Department of Transportion (DOT) and board member of the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, prepares to answer. 

Lewis says a study will be conducted this fall. "The rate of the tolls have an affect on traffic, diversion...What are the economic impacts of tolls on both sides of the river...That will influence how the toll rate is established," Lewis said. 

8:54 — Lewis says there's a need for a permanent revenue stream to maintain bridges. "If we can't invest in them (the state's other bridges), they will go the way of the Sakonnet River Bridge," Lewis says. 

9:01 — Many residents asking questions to Lewis and governor. "I'm very disappointed to see we helped build the new Taj Mahal at the end of the Newport bridge," says Dennis Canario, former Portsmouth Town Councilor who is running for state representative. 

9:04 — "There are discounts for frequent users," Lewis says about bridge tolls. 

9:05 — Chafee reads list of elected officials present: Reps. Dan Gordon, Dan Reilly, Raymond Gallison and Senator Chris Ottiano. 

9:08 — President of Portsmouth Small Business Association asks, "Why are there two bridges, on and off our island, where we have to support all the other bridges in the state? It just doesn't make sense." The audience applauds. 

"The tolling that's being proposed would protect these four bridges: the Pell, that's being tolled, the Mount Hope, the Jamestown and the Sakonnet. Those four bridges make up 20%; they're the largest bridges in the state. The other bridges would have to be paid by what's left of the state's gas tax," Lewis said. 

"The cost to repair the Pell bridge is more than the cost to build it because of inflation," Lewis says. 

9:12 — "More than 50 cents of every $1 gas tax goes to debt service," says Lewis. "We're trying to change that," said the governor. 

9:16 — "We're tired of being the ATM machine for Providence," Kathleen Melvin of Portsmouth said. 

9:27 — Questions from residents and business owners continue. Lewis says the state is continuing its push to toll the interstate. "We're pursing the ability to toll 95," he said. "There are some people in that part of the state that don't think that's fair...Current federal law doesn't allow it." Lewis said it will cost $2 million per year to maintain the new Sakonnet River Bridge. 

9:36 — Councilor Judi Staven says businesses will close with bridge tolls. 

9:41 — "Between the toll and the sale tax, you're putting me out of business," said Jeff Phelan, owner of Leisure Limousine, to Gov. Chafee. 

9:49 — Break in meeting topic to discuss mosquito spraying. The town will

9:52 — Chafee asks audience if there are any questions about loans or small business issues. Many audience members leave.

9:55 — Representatives from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Department of Labor and Training and Newport County Chamber of Commerce are present. 

10 a.m. — "Here in Portsmouth, you're vocal and we've never seen an audience like this. We'll come back and talk business issues," Chafee said. "We're going to fix those things that businesses complain about." 

10:20 — Questions from business owners continue. Gov. Chafee says they will take one more question and return another time. 

10:22 — Meeting comes to an end. 

J. Lane McMahon August 23, 2012 at 04:59 PM
David, The DOT director, Michael Lewis, clearly stated that the toll money from the Sakonnet River Bridge would help pay for the maintenance on all 4 bridges.
David August 23, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I know. But at nearly 40 million a year coming just from the sakonnet alone who is getting screwed? How much does the spell bring in a year? Lewis also said if they didn't get the sakonnet toll they would have to raise the spell toll by a dollar. If that one extra dollar from way less than 40k vehicles that cross spell was enough then why a new 40 million plus infusion?
David August 23, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Pell. Damn autocorrect!
J. Lane McMahon August 23, 2012 at 05:37 PM
2011 Toll revenues for the Pell/Newport bridge were around 18 million. At this point, that is just about a break even point for the upkeep. I also believe that the new toll on the Sakonnet is going to be a one-way. And, any additional monies collected are to be put in a fund to maintain Newport County bridges and roads. As a side note: The work on the Mt Hope was in the 30 million range and the Pell is currently in a 10 year 223 million dollar repair/upkeep program. Mr. Lewis told us today that the toll projections on the Sakonnet are in the 10-12 million a year range.
J. Lane McMahon August 23, 2012 at 06:21 PM
The answer to this problem is pretty simple. Hit every vehicle registration with a $35 sur-charge. With 7-800,000 cars in RI, it would result in at least 26M in revenue, coupled with the 18M already coming in from the Pell/Newport, we're in the 40M range that DOT says they need. Spread across the state, not just singling us out.
David August 23, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Your quoted numbers still don't add up. 18 million coming in from Pell does not cover the estimated 23 million per year for the Pell ten year plan. Let alone the Mt hope maintenance. Where is the additional money currently coming from then? Someone at the state level is either fudging numbers or they are too incompetent to figure them out. Lets not forget that this Lewis character was kicked off the big dig mess and hired by a former dope governor.
Mark D August 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I believe there is a plan in place to give the money from registration fees that they are already collecting to the DOT instead of the General fund. So that would be about the same. The biggest problem facing the state is we need $3 billion to fix all that ails RIs roads and bridges.
Mark D August 23, 2012 at 06:47 PM
David the RITBA fund all the major projects with Bonds.
David August 23, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Gotcha. Still an awful lot of new revenue.
J. Lane McMahon August 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Not really when you look at 3 of the 4 bridges not turning any revenue and the fourth not even being able to support itself.
J. Lane McMahon August 23, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Not at all Mark. What I am proposing is a new additional $35 surcharge.
Herb Weiss August 23, 2012 at 11:13 PM
End the RI bridge and Turnpike authority... That savings alone will cover the shortfall with no increase on Pell bridge. NO TOLL on the new Sakonnet River Bridge. We'll all pay higher Registration and license fees for the pay as you go program along with federal highway dollars and gas,sales,income taxes that we pay. Any TOLL on the Sakonnet River Bridge is Unconstitutional and illegal. We the people of Aquidneck Island will not pay a Higher Tax Rate than the rest of the state. TOLLS ARE TAXES... ACLU Litigation on this matter ASAP.....................
Herb Weiss August 23, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority Expenditures & ETC (2012 Budgeted) 2012 Payroll and Benefits $ 3,147,567.00 2012 Operations cost $ 2,275,450.00 2012 ETC Fund $ 1,319,670.00 TOTAL $ 6,742,687.00
Herb Weiss August 23, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Almost Fifty percent of the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ 18,320,000.00 collected in tolls goes to running more government the RIBTA. What a joke................................................
Mark D August 23, 2012 at 11:53 PM
What is the ETC fund? How much of the operations cost would be eliminated by dissolving the RITBA? How much would the saving be from transferring personal that aren't redundant to RIDOT? Unless you think that everyone of them is redundant.
Mark D August 24, 2012 at 12:29 AM
I think that if that surcharge was implemented it would be on top of the tolls. The State is still hoping to be able to put a toll up on the I-95 boarder of CT.
J. Lane McMahon August 24, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Herb, Your math is a little off....18M in tolls on Pell, 22.3M in work. Sakonnet at 2M a year for maint. Then add in the Mt. Hope and Jamestown bridges....How does 6.7M cover that???? I also fail to see where in the Constitution it says tolls are illegal. Please explain.
Herb Weiss August 29, 2012 at 11:05 PM
A toll is a tax... You cannot tax a community at a higher tax rate than other Rhode Island communities. We have over 700 bridges in this state and they want to tax us again on the Sakonnet River Bridge, we already pay for the Pell Bridge Tax. I feel it is an unfair tax and uncontitutional and discriminitive. ETC Stands for "Executive Team Compensation"
Herb Weiss August 29, 2012 at 11:19 PM
I have discussed this matter with legal professionals and we firmly believe the only way to stop this is with litigation against the State Of Rhode Island.
Mark D August 29, 2012 at 11:26 PM
So you would be fine if they took to toll off the Pell and put it on the Sakonnet only. That way we wouldn't be double taxed as you say. I do have a couple of question. How many people are being double taxed? I don't know anybody that drives over both bridges with any regularity. Would the lawyer be able to litigate the fairness of Newport commuters paying for the Mt Hope Bridge?
Jim L August 30, 2012 at 02:06 AM
we all pay RI Gas Tax which goes to maintain the bridges highways and streets of Rhode Island, The Other night a rep pleged that every cent raised by new tolls would be used to maintain the 4 bridges and ONLY Newport county streets and roads, Tiverton counciler ask's that since every gallon of gas sold in Newport county has at least a $1.00 Ri gas tax included in it to maintain the bridges streets and roads in RI will the gas tax be removed in Newport county, since we will now be paying to maintain our own bridges and streets and wil we be passing double tax's with the gas tax money not going to Newport county, would the gas tax be removed???????????? well no is the answer, can you say RIPOFF!!! Don't fall for this , sign a petition, write a letter, tell your rep who sold you out he better step up big time or he's gone, it's the only message they get
TD August 30, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Jim L, This is the best argument you've made to date. I dont agree with much you say, but I am impressed that you bring this up. Tolling and taxing us when we fill our tanks in Newport county looks like a clear double tax....but does that mean its illegal?
Jim L August 30, 2012 at 06:10 PM
TD , i have no idea, i can't see how it could be,but we, i, you us, have lawyers and others looking at all of this, from all the DOT bills passed, to state budgets to ri turnpike saleries,I know ar one point someone said just raise the car registations $2.00 for every RI car, and get rid of the RITPNBA, thats not going to fly because it looks like your car fee's are going up by $10.00 bucks next year anyway, I will say lots of folks are angry about this, even got free parking in Newport this morning, guy saw my shirt, signed the petition and told my he would let me park there anytime, picked up 4 new places in Newport
Jim L August 30, 2012 at 06:16 PM
The women i work with have a master listof all the businesses in Newport county that have allowed me to place petitions in their stores, shops, salons. gyms, car dealers, what ever, i don't know how many it is, but it's alot and those places will also be presented to the economic study as evidence that they feel toll will be very harmfull to their busisinesses and their empoyees
Jim L August 30, 2012 at 06:17 PM
hope to have a total to post next week
Herb Weiss August 30, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I will say this based upon the legal experts opinions, litigation is coming against our great state of Rhode Island on the unfair taxing of aquidneck Island. The message is clear we're not going to take it anymore. Rhode Island has also used federal highway funds to build the New Sakonnet River Bridge and should require a federal approval. Massachussetts is also getting involved in this matter on the executive level, I can see why their pissed off. Rhode Island needs to fund any shortfall in the four bridge system with the gas tax and higher registration and license fees, without a new toll tax revenue stream, just as it does for the rest of seven hundred plus bridges and thousands of roads in RI. That sucking sound you hear from, Chafee, Smith Hill and RIBTA is going to Stop... NO MORE TAX DOLLARS SUCKED AWAY FROM THE HARD WORKING AQUIDNECK ISLANDER.
Jim L August 30, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Thank you Herb Weiss, i would tend to agree with you, there are things being found out everyday
J. Lane McMahon August 30, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Herb, you seem confused about a few things. Using Federal funds does not limit a state's ability to toll a road or bridge. Only roads that are interstates need federal permitting. Although, RI does need federal approval to transfer the ownership of the bridge for tolling. As to your legal experts...I have to say that I for one would question the validity of the legal degrees. It is perfectly legal for the state to put up a toll. When you say Mass. Executive..I can only assume you mean the Gov....My question is: What's he going to do about it? If he's so pissed off, where is the outrage in the media?
J. Lane McMahon August 30, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Ri Gas tax is 51.4 cents per gallon including federal tax. (I believe DOT quoted something along the lines of 31.5 cents with 28.5 of it going to DOT.)
J. Lane McMahon August 30, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Can someone please post a link to where in the RIGL it states that RI must provide bridges to Aquidneck Island?

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