2014-02-13 / News

East Bay legislation would axe Sakonnet toll

A group of East Bay legislators on Tuesday submitted legislation to create a predictable statewide funding source for roads and bridges without a toll on the Sakonnet

River Bridge.

The legislation creates a new infrastructure trust fund using a number of existing revenue streams to create a pool of funding for the maintenance of all state-controlled roads and bridges. The plan would also add funding to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

The trust fund established by the legislation would be funded through several sources. First, the legislation would decrease the total of anticipated state revenue that can be budgeted from 97 to 95.5 percent, and dedicates the difference to the infrastructure account. The rest would continue to go to the state’s capital fund, as is the case under current law. All new funds from uninsured motorists will also be dedicated to the infrastructure account, as is any revenue from the gas tax that becomes available as the state assumes the Department of Transportation debts.

Beginning in 2020, all gas taxes would go directly to the trust fund. Currently, the money has been going to pay off the bonded debt the state incurred to meet the federal match for transportation projects.

For the first five years of the new funding system, the account will be augmented by a temporary 5 percent surcharge in fees from the Division of Motor Vehicle. The increase is eliminated in 2020.

The legislation also transfers the Sakonnet River and Jamestown bridges from the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority back to the state, and establishes a new R.I. bridge authority as a department within the Department of Transportation, with the ability to toll only the Pell Bridge.

The lead sponsors are Rep. John Edwards and Sen. Louis DiPalma. The legislation is co-sponsored by six members of the House and four senators, representing Bristol, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton, Middletown, Newport, Warren, Cranston, Providence and East Providence.

“Rhode Island’s transportation infrastructure is the responsibility of all Rhode Islanders,” said DiPalma, who represents Middletown, Newport Little Compton and Tiverton. “Our transportation infrastructure needs to be a priority of the entire state and needs the entire state’s support. We can do this. We must have the resolve to seize this opportunity and address the challenge once and for all. The time to act is now.”

“This legislation not only deals with the immediate problem of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls but also looks 10 years ahead and offers a solution to our infrastructure funding on a statewide basis,” said Ottiano. “Our infrastructure is vital to the entire economy of this state. It is equally vital that it be repaired and maintained. This plan uses mostly existing funding sources without new taxes and only one new fee that will sunset in five years. It is truly a statewide solution.”

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