Rhode Island secures transportation funding minus Sakonnet Bridge tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/23/2014

Truckers and other drivers in Rhode Island no longer must pay a toll to access the Sakonnet River Bridge.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed an $8.7 billion budget bill last week that included the elimination of tolls on the new state Route 138 crossing. On Friday, June 20, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority was directed to stop tolling the bridge by noon.

Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, said the removal of tolls is not just a legislative achievement.

“The people who came together to organize against the tolls should be truly proud of what they have accomplished,” DiPalma said in prepared remarks. “Oftentimes, one specific problem can set off a solution to a much larger, related issue, which is what happened here.”

A 10-cent toll was 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 solution includes a new fund for road and bridge work fueled by a fuel tax increase and new vehicle fees.

“We all agree good transportation infrastructure is closely aligned with building a strong economy,” Chafee stated. “Nobody wants to see another bridge completely replaced – at great cost to taxpayers – because of a lack of maintenance.”

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 bill, H7133, 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.

In addition, the budget transfers the revenue from 3.5 cents of the state’s existing fuel tax to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority for the operation and maintenance of the bridges in its scope.

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