2013-09-26 / News

Panel will mull alternatives to Sakonnet toll

The special legislative commission that has been tasked with deciding how to fund the state’s four main bridges is scheduled to meet for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 4 p.m. at the State House.

The agenda includes a presentation by the House and Senate fiscal staffs. Lawmakers will recap recent studies on the state’s infrastructure and how tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge will impact the East Bay economy.

Last year, the General Assembly approved a provision in the budget transferring the ownership of the Sakonnet River Bridge, which connects Tiverton and Portsmouth, to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority so a toll could be placed on the bridge. Since then, a majority of the East Bay delegation and members of their communities have been vying for an equitable alternative to the tolls in order to maintain the area’s infrastructure and protect Aquidneck Island businesses.

The commission allows lawmakers and officials from the affected state departments and agencies to come together for six months and map out various funding plans, potentially eradicating the need for a Sakonnet Bridge toll. Additionally, the bridge authority has implemented a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge so it can preserve future tolling options for the bridge while the commission works to find alternatives.

Rep. Helio Melo and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte, both of East Providence, will co-chair the commission. Melo and Da Ponte also serve as the chairmen of their respective chamber’s finance committees. Other members include legislators who represent Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Bristol, East Greenwich and West Greenwich.

The remaining members are Michael Lewis and Richard Licht, the directors of the state Transportation and Administration departments, respectively, and Buddy Croft, executive director of the bridge authority.

The meeting is in Room 35 of the State House. The meeting will also be broadcast live on Capitol TV, Cox Channel 15 and Verizon Channel 34.

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