Three Rhode Island legislators are sponsoring legislation that would block the placement of tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge, according to a State House press release Friday.
Rep. John G. Edwards (D–Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Sens. Walter S. Felag Jr. and Louis P. DiPalma are sponsoring legislation that would effectively stand in the way of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) placing a toll on the bridge, which connects Portsmouth and Tiverton.
Rep. Edwards sponsored the first House bill (2013-H 5137), repealing Article 20 of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. The legislation would prevent the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) from turning control of the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges over to RITBA, as Article 20 currently allows.
Article 20 additionally gives RITBA the right to implement a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. The authority would then have absolute control over the funds collected from those tolls.
“My hope is that these bills send a clear message to my colleagues that this issue is not dead and must be revisited,” Edwards said. “Putting a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge will devastate the small businesses in my district and Newport County. It will also be another tax on the residents of this area and a short-sighted one at that.”
At least one Portsmouth business has closed to avoid bridge tolls.
Felag (D–Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), who sponsors the bill in the Senate (2013-S 0020), further elaborated: “If the governor and the General Assembly truly want economic development, they must rescind this toll so that businesses will not stay away.”
The second bill (2013-H 5069), also sponsored by Edwards, replaces the four RITBA appointments from the governor with the following: the mayor of Newport or his/her elected designee, the Town Council president of Portsmouth or his/her elected designee, the Town Council president of Tiverton or his/her elected designee and the Town Council president of Jamestown or his/her elected designee. Under this legislation, all members with the exception of the director of transportation would have to be residents of Newport County.
DiPalma (D–Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) plans to introduce legislation mirroring the second House bill in the Senate.
“As a representative of my constituents in both Tiverton and Portsmouth, it is my duty to find a way to settle the matter of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls in an equitable manner,” Edwards said. “This is going to have a massive effect on not only the residents of Aquidneck Island, but on the business community. With economic development our number one priority in the General Assembly, we cannot afford to allow a measure like this bridge toll to stifle our efforts.”
Cosponsors of the first House bill include Reps. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D–Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Kenneth A. Marshall (D–Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), Dennis M. Canario (D–Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) and Jan P. Malik (D–Dist. 67, Warren, Barrington). The legislation has been referred to the House Finance Committee. Those same cosponsors have signed onto the second House bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on Municipal Government.
Felag’s companion to the bill repealing Article 20 is cosponsored by Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D–Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and Senators Christopher S. Ottiano (R–Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol), David E. Bates (R–Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Louis P. DiPalma (D–Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton).
The legislation has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
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