A bill that would eliminate tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and create a sustainable infrastructure fund to repair and maintain the state's road and bridges will be reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee tonight.
The committee will meet at 3 p.m. in Room 211 to consider a bill that would provide a new method to fund transportation and bridge costs in Rhode Island. The act (2014-S 2335) would establish the Rhode Island Transportation Infrastructure Fund as a restricted receipt account within the Rhode Island Intermodal Surface Transportation Fund. Additionally, ownership of the Sakonnet River and Mount Hope bridges would be transferred to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (DOT) and the ability to toll those bridges would be revoked.
“We listened carefully to the Aquidneck Island residents and business owners who have exercised their democratic rights in speaking up for what is fair regarding bridge tolls in the East Bay, and now we’ve acted,” said Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), primary sponsor of the bill. “I think this demonstrates the strong commitment of the General Assembly to the people it represents. The legislation provides a solid plan moving forward, and I hope my colleagues on the Finance Committee will support it.”
Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton), sponsor of the House companion bill, noted: “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in both the Senate and the House to finalize a long-term, statewide plan for the maintenance of our state’s bridges and roads. We share the same common goal: to ensure a fair system that will protect the integrity of our local economy while improving Rhode Island’s infrastructure.”
The bill further requires all funds and revenue generated by the establishment of the uninsured motorist identification database be deposited into the Transportation Infrastructure Fund.
DiPalma said he expects the committee will approve the bill and report it out to the full senate.
The current version of the bill has been modified from an earlier version submitted at the start of the legislative session.
In the old version, ownership of the of the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge would have been transferred to the state Department of Transportation. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority would kept ownership of the Claiborne Pell and Mount Hope Bridges.
The current version would give the RITBA ownership of the Pell and Jamestown bridges under the assumption that they're less expensive to maintain, and ensuring tolls on the Pell bridge would not go up.
The new version also eliminates a provision that would have diverted sales tax revenue collected from online purchases into the transportation fund if Congress passed the Marketplace Fairness Act. But since that hasn't happened, it's no longer part of the bill.