Rhode Island lawmakers OK funding without Sakonnet Bridge tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/17/2014

Rhode Island state lawmakers endorsed an $8.7 billion state budget that includes the elimination of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and creates a new fund for road and bridge work.

The Senate voted 32-5 on Monday, June 16, to advance the state spending plan to Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s desk for his expected signature. House lawmakers already approved H7133 on a 62-11 vote.

The budget eliminates planned tolls on the new state Route 138 crossing. A 10-cent toll has been charged for the past year to all users of the bridge connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton. The Legislature, however, wanted to come up with an alternative plan to cover the nearly $1 million a year in operating costs.

The minimal fee was set to buy lawmakers time to come up with a long-term solution that didn’t include tolls.

The governor said after the bill’s passage that he has been adamant that, absent tolling, a reasonable alternative be reached.

“The reality is we cannot afford to see another bridge completely replaced – at great cost to taxpayers – because of a lack of maintenance,” Chafee said in a news release.

In the place of tolls is a 1-cent fuel tax increase that will be imposed starting July 1, 2015. Increasing the state’s 33-cent-per-gallon tax rate by one penny is estimated to raise $4 million more each year.

In addition, the tax will be adjusted every two years based on the rate of inflation.

The new road and bridge infrastructure fund created in the budget will be supported by higher vehicle inspection fees that kick in July 1. The increase is expected to raise $4.8 million annually.

All vehicle-related fees now deposited into the state’s general fund will also be rerouted to the new transportation fund over the next five years.

“This is a very responsible budget that establishes a sensible, steady source for transportation funding without burdening the East Bay and islands with tolls,” stated Rep. Raymond Gallison Jr., D-Portsmouth.

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