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.