A bill currently before the Senate in the state General Assembly seeks to revise the tolling ability of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
Senate Bill 0242, introduced by Sens. Louis P. DiPalma and Teresa Paiva Weed, among others, would prevent RITBA from tolling the Sakonnet River Bridge, the Mount Hope Bridge and the Jamestown Bridge. It would also freeze the tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge at the current rate.
If you will recall, the bridge authority wants to toll the Sakonnet Bridge. The proposal has caused a great outcry on the East Bay.
In order to pay for the continued maintenance of the four bridges under the supervision of RITBA, the Senate bill creates a new fund under the state Department of Transportation. Money for the bridge-maintenance fund would come from Rhode Island motor-vehicle inspections. The bill sets aside $20 from the $59 inspection fee that would go to this maintenance fund. The money and fees from the Pell Bridge tolls would provide funding for the maintenance of all four bridges.
The bill says that if money in the bridge maintenance fund are not used by the bridge authority, then the balance can be used by DOT for other maintenance activities.
We recognize in the past that RITBA has done an outstanding job in maintaining both the Pell Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge. Now that the bridge authority has been assigned two additional major access spans, the Jamestown Bridge and the Sakonnet Bridge, we are concerned that adequate money is available to continue the necessary pro-active level of maintenance that RITBA’s track record reflects.
The Transportation Department has a history of deferred maintenance – one only need look at the old and the new Jamestown Bridge spans. The old span had to be replaced for lack of maintenance and the new span will require a large amount of work by the authority – we question the logic of having the DOT control the maintenance fund.
We are also concerned that the General Assembly has a habit of targeting such funds for balancing the state budget. If that were to happen in future years should this bill be approved, then RITBA would be left without a funding vehicle to provide adequate maintenance on the four bridges.
Given that the Pell Bridge will require a deck replacement at a cost of more than $100 million in the next few years, continued maintenance is imperative. We must continue full maintenance on the Pell Bridge as replacement of the Narragansett Bay span would cost well over $8 billion.
We believe all bridge users should share in the cost of maintenance and that the Sakonnet River Bridge should be tolled. We do not think everyone in the state should be paying for the bridges through their inspection fees.
Senate Bill 0242 should be rejected.
— Jeff McDonough