Rhode Island funding plan would nix Sakonnet Bridge tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/28/2014

A package of bills introduced at the Rhode Island statehouse would continue the 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge for another three months until they can be completely eliminated.

Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton, said the toll extension would give lawmakers time to “create a predictable statewide funding source” for roads and bridges without relying on tolling the new state Route 138 crossing.

A year ago the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority pushed for a 75-cent toll for motorists living in the state with E-ZPass. Commuters without E-ZPass would be responsible for paying $5.25. Plans called for truckers to pay $2 per axle, or $1.88 with a state-issued E-ZPass.

The Legislature, however, wanted to come up with an alternative plan to cover the nearly $1 million a year in operating costs.

House and Senate lawmakers voted last July to buy themselves some time and impose a 10-cent toll for all users of the bridge connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton. The tax cap is set to end April 1.

Edwards introduced one bill, H7569, to extend the dime rate to cross the bridge until July 1. He said the extension would give lawmakers time to approve a plan to get rid of tolls.

“This needs to be a transparent, thorough process so that we do not have to revisit this issue again,” Edwards said in a news release.

The long-term plan introduced this week at the statehouse would prohibit tolls and turn over control of the bridge from the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to the state Department of Transportation.

However, tolls could continue to be collected on the Claiborne Pell Bridge.

The transportation proposal – H7432 and S2335 – would create a new Infrastructure Trust Fund using existing revenue to maintain state-controlled roads and bridges. In addition, a 5 percent surcharge would be applied to Department of Motor Vehicle fees through 2019.

“This plan uses mostly existing funding sources without new taxes and only one new fee that will sunset in five years,” stated Sen. Christopher Ottiano, R-Portsmouth. “It is truly a statewide solution.”

All three bills await committee consideration.

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