A piece of legislation will be heard by the Senate Finance Committee today that would not only avoid tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, but also prevent toll hikes on the Newport Pell Bridge and prevent the reinstatement of tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge.
It was introduced by Senators Louis DiPalma, Walter S. Felag Jr., Christopher S. Ottiano, David E. Bates and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed.
How the Bridges are Paid for Today
A quasi-public agency, called the Rhode Island Transportation and Bridge Authority (RITBA), is responsible for the Newport Pell Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge. Its five-member board is appointed by the governor. Currently, RIBTA does not receive state or local tax revenue.
It pays for the maintenance of the two bridges through toll revenue on the Newport Pell Bridge.
Why Is There a Proposal To Put Tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge?
Last June, as part of the state budget packet, RIBTA gained jurisdiction over two more bridges - the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Bridge. With two additional bridges in its portfolio, which tack on additional annual expense, there is a proposal to install tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
According to DiPalma, it is estimated that the four bridges will cost around $38 million dollars annually to maintain, which includes debts already incurred for past projects. The Newport Pell Bridge brings in around $21 million in toll revenue, which would leave RIBTA $17 million short each year.
The current proposal is to supplement that deficit with new tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
How Would This Proposed Legislation Avoid New Tolls?
The proposed legislation would keep the two additional bridges under RIBTA’s jurisdiction, but add revenue streams to the Authority.
“If you look at the work of RIBTA, both the Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridges, they have been pretty well maintained in relative comparison of what we have done with the state on the Sakonnet River Bridge,” said DiPalma.
If approved, the legislation would provide RIBTA with two new funding streams: state inspection stickers and revenue from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The bill would add a $20.00 fee to the existing bi-annual motor vehicle emissions inspection fee, which is currently at $39.00.
He said essentially, the bill would ask Rhode Island residents to pay for one toll trip a month. “If we think about vehicle inspection fee, at $20, that’s .83 cents a month which is ironically the price of one trip over the bridge,” said DiPalma.
Additionally, beginning in 2014, net revenue generated by the DMV, which is estimated at approximated $40M, would be transferred to the bridge maintenance fund. It would begin at $10 million in 2014, and increased by $5 million each year. Currently, that DMV revenue is funneled into the state’s general fund.
Any excess funds in the bridge maintenance fund would be transferred to RIDOT for operation and maintenance of state roads each year.
“Over time, this is helping the DOT find a more sustainable approach to funding,” said DiPalma. “If we put tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, they are setting a precedence, that for each new project across the state, it will be tolled.”