East Bay legislators look for ways to fund bridges
East Bay lawmakers Sen. Louis DiPalma and Rep. John Edwards have filed new legislation to prevent additional tolls on Rhode Island bridges by establishing a new funding source for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
According to the bill, the bridge authority would be funded through vehicle-inspections fees, insurance tax and penalties to uninsured motorists.
The legislation would also expand RITBA’s power to all stateowned bridges with spans of more than 700 feet, adding 19 bridges. Currently the authority oversees four bridges along the eastern side of the state: the Newport, Jamestown, Mount Hope and Sakonnet River spans.
The goal of the legislation, according to the sponsors, is to improve bridge maintenance and make the authority a statewide agency. Instead of having East Bay and Aquidneck community members bear the financial brunt of maintaining the structures, the bill would spread the benefits and responsibility across the state.
“Rhode Island’s bridges are in rough shape,” said DiPalma. “According to a recent Department of Transportation study, 62 percent of state-owned bridges are either structurally deficient, functionally obsolete, posted or closed. We haven’t been giving them the attention, maintenance and funding necessary to keep them safe.”
The legislation, which the lawmakers introduced last Thursday, would give RITBA authority purview over 23 bridges, including spans in Providence, East Providence, Lincoln, Cumberland, Cranston, Warwick and Newport.
Beginning in the next fiscal year, the bill would increase the existing biannual inspection fee from $39 to $65. The first $23 of the $26 increase would be allocated to a new bridge maintenance fund with $3 going to the facility performing the inspection. The increase is conservatively expected to generate $6.5 million annually.
“The fact is,” said Edwards, “everyone in Rhode Island relies on bridges, whether they have major bridges in their own neighborhood or not. While many of those who live in the East Bay use the bridges there daily, the rest of Rhode Island benefits from them too, even if they only visit the area occasionally. We all reap the gains of the tax dollars generated by the many businesses located in the East Bay that rely on the bridges, especially those in the tourism industry. Our proposal is a way to take care of those bridges and all large bridges across the state without instituting more oppressive tolls.”
Also, tax revenue from insurance premiums and fines from uninsured motorists would also be moved to the bridge maintenance fund. Combined with the inspection fee, the changes are expected to provide about $111 million for bridges over 10 years.
It would also leverage the net revenues generated by the Division of Motor Vehicles. Beginning with $5 million in fiscal year 2016, the proposal would transfer from the DMV to the bridge maintenance fund an additional $5 million each year, topping out at $40 million in 2023 and remaining at that level, generating $260 million over 10 years, beginning 2016.
Additionally, the legislation calls for an annual appropriation of $3 million from the state capitol fund to the bridge maintenance fund. If the state should fail to make this appropriation in any given year, RITBA would be allowed to institute additional tolls.