2013-02-21 / News

Sakonnet toll detractors want to amend budget

When Sen. Walter Felag Jr. and Rep. John Edwards announced legislation to fight plans for tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge, some expressed concern about how they could make up for the $10 million the tolls would generate to be used for bridge maintenance.

Felag and Edwards have an answer: reject Article 11 of the fiscal year 2014 state budget proposed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee that calls for $10 million for a municipal incentive aid program and divert that money to repairs and maintenance of the state’s four major bridges.

In calling for the elimination of the toll on the state’s newest span, Felag said, “If the governor and the General Assembly truly want economic development, they must rescind this toll so that businesses can prosper.”

Bills already introduced by East Bay legislators this session would scuttle plans for bridge tolls by repealing an article that would transfer from the Department of Transportation to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority control over the Sakonnet and Jamestown bridges.

“Putting a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge,” said Edwards, “will devastate the small businesses in my district and Newport County, and will be another tax on the residents of this area and a short-sighted one, at that.”

The two legislators, who have waged a battle against the Sakonnet

River Bridge toll since the idea was first floated some years ago, believe their current proposal may finally get the job done.

“In opposing tolls on the new bridge, we have always been presented with the question of how to make up revenue that would be lost if there are no tolls,” said Felag. “While we believe that the municipal incentive aid program proposed by the governor has merit, we believe using the $10 million to eliminate the toll makes much more sense – for every resident and business facing added costs for getting from one part of the state to another. Taking in the tolls may be a quick revenue stream for the bridge authority, but it is a potential economic growth killer for this part of the state. A thorough economic study on businesses was never done.”

Added Edwards, “This toll could have a massive negative effect on not only the residents of Aquidneck Island but on the business community as well. With economic development our number one priority in the General Assembly, we cannot afford to allow a measure like this bridge toll to stifle our efforts, especially if there is $10 million available for a brand new program.”

The municipal aid program proposed by the governor in the budget he submitted would be used to encourage municipalities to improve the sustainability of their retirement plans and to reduce unfunded liabilities by providing additional state aid to those municipalities that comply with the requirements set forth in the program proposal.

The two legislators said that as state revenues exceed expectations, Rhode Island should be able to eliminate the toll and fund the municipal aid program.

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