On July 2, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Chafee approved a trailer bill allowing an interim 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Of course, the nominal amount is a placeholder for the larger amount of $5.25 – without a Rhode Island transponder – originally approved by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, a self-governing entity like the state Economic Development Corporation. The authority says it “needs” the tolls to support the four-bridge system consisting of the Jamestown, Newport, Mount Hope and Sakonnet bridges.
So the winners are:
• The state Island Department of Transportation, which will no longer be responsible for maintaining two major bridges, and
• The bridge authority, a quasigovernmental agency whose required revenue keeps changing, and who continues to overstep its bounds by planning on well-over $20 million annually in new Sakonnet Bridge revenue, to support not just the Sakonnet span, but the Jamestown, Newport and Mount Hope bridges.
The $20 million has to come from somewhere. So the losers are:
• Low-income employees who travel on and off Aquidneck Island for work;
• Small-business owners, dog walkers, beauty salons, Meals On Wheels, visiting nurses, landscapers and tradesman, and all who use the bridge several times a day;
• Island residents traveling to Providence and Boston for medical treatments;
• Day-trippers who spend at local markets and shops;
• Tourists visiting our beaches, restaurants and shops;
• Military retirees traveling to the Navy base for medical services;
• Manufacturers who ship to and from the island;
• Oil, construction and furniture businesses required to cross the bridge with deliveries;
• Towns’ tax revenue from reductions associated with these businesses;
• Schools already tight budgets for trips for sports and recreation;
The list goes on and on.
Ultimately, this toll will have a serious negative economic impact on residents, visitors, businesses and Rhode Island’s general fund. Numerous businesses and residents have testified that once the toll is instituted, low-wage employees who cross the bridge daily will not be able to afford to come to work, day-trippers will limit or eliminate their trips to our local businesses, businesses will reduce staff, and income to the communities adjoining the bridge will be reduced, consequently cutting tax revenues to the state. The negative affect will be devastating to many Rhode Islanders.
This decision is short sighted for Rhode Island and destructive to the economic gains we have worked so hard to attain during these challenging economic times. The toll is not a done deal as so many have been lead to believe. Let’s remind our elected officials that they are elected by the people, for the people, not to make their lives easier by passing these costs along to voters.
The author is a former Middletown town councilor. He is currently the chairman of the Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform, a coalition of East Bay residents aimed at pressuring state lawmakers to vote against tolling the Sakonnet River Bridge.