Long says E-Z Pass could be costly to locals
State Representative Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) said that the E-Z Pass system being proposed by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) could be costly to locals if they are not given a discount.
During his legislative update at Monday's Town Council meeting, Long said, "It is a double tax for us locals who not only pay for the road and bridge infrastructure through the gas tax, but we are burdened with the only tolled road or bridge in the state."
A letter sent by Long and State Senator M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D - Jamestown, Newport) to David Darlington, Chairman of the RITBA did result in three scheduled forums, two in Jamestown and one in Newport. Long reported that RITBA is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 8:30 a.m., at their administrative offices to vote on the particulars of instituting the E-Z Pass system.
"We have been persistent in our requests for a lower toll rate for locals," Long said. According to Long, he and Paiva Weed are specifically requesting a public hearing before the Board votes instead of introducing their requests for a reduced rate after the system "particulars" are approved.
Councilman Robert Sutton suggested a phase-out program for the tokens when the E-Z Pass system is adopted. "I see no reason why everybody has to turn in their tokens right away. There will be cash lanes for those who aren't using E-Z Pass. There is no reason why they can't accept tokens until they run out." Long agreed with Sutton.
Jamestown resident Deb Ruggiero implored everyone to attend the meeting on Sept. 17 to discuss E-Z Pass and ensure that locals get some kind of a discount. "We need to make our presence known at that meeting," she said.
Long reported that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority will hold hearings throughout the state during September to take testimony on their proposed cutbacks. Several local runs might be affected by these cuts, including the Newport to URI connection.
Long said he will attend the meetings to argue against cutting mass transit, "especially at a time when ridership is up and personal transportation is becoming prohibitively expensive." A hearing will take place Sept. 30, at the Newport Public Library Community Room from 2 to 4 p.m., and again from 6 to 8 p.m.
House bill H-8199 concerning the remainder of the Jamestown Bridge being used as a fishing pier that was brought up by the Town Council was disappointing in its final passage, Long said. He reported that the final version "completely gutted any hope of a fishing pier at the North Kingstown end of the old Jamestown Bridge."
The new language says, "The RIDEM (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management) should give due consideration to constructing a fishing pier where the old Jamestown Bridge was." Long reported that he, as well as Representatives Lally and Shanley voted against the bill. The RIDEM is also considering a fishing pier at the former Midway Pier location in Middletown on Burma Road, Long said.
During the open forum, Don Miller, president of the Conanicut Island Art Association thanked the Council and the citizens of Jamestown for the use of Town Hall to show CIAA artwork. He said that it was important for the artists to have the ability to put price tags on their art so they have the opportunity to sell it.
He also asked the Council to consider allowing the CIAA to open Town Hall one evening a week so people who can't come during Town Hall business hours can have an opportunity see the artwork in the evening.
Town Council President Julio DiGiando said that opening the Town Hall every Thursday night would be commercializing the use of Town Hall more than the Council thinks is appropriate.
Sutton agreed with DiGiando and said that Town Hall is a government building supported by resident and merchant taxpayers of Jamestown. Some of those merchants own galleries that are in direct competition with the CIAA. Consequently, it isn't fair to allow a private enterprise to use a public facility to do business since taxpayers are the ones who are paying for it.
Sutton clarified his statement by saying, "Not that CIAA artists don't pay taxes, but they aren't renting a store or buying property like the galleries in order to do business. We can't allow public buildings to be used as a retail store."
"I support using Town Hall to exhibit local art. It's a fine idea," Sutton said. "It enhances the appearance of the facility and gives local artists a venue to display their work. But I don't think we should expand the program beyond where it is now."
Councilman William Kelly added, "There are more issues than just paying a town employee to open and close the facility, even if the CIAA paid for it." He said there were rent, electricity and other maintenance expenses, and insurance that would have to be considered. "I think it would be setting a precedent that is not appropriate for the Town."