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NEW: Edwards, Felag, DiPalma Fighting Sakonnet River Bridge Tolls

Friday, January 25, 2013


As Rhode Island looks to increase the revenue it collects on its roads and bridges, one of the most hotly-contested ideas involves adding a toll to the Sakonnet River Bridge.

It’s an idea that has been batted back and forth for years with proponents arguing the state needs the money more now than ever before and opponents expressing concerns about what it will do to the local economies in the cities closest to the bridge.

Now, three General Assembly members are weighing in and, if they have their way, those local communities won’t have any reason to worry anytime soon.

Rep. John G. Edwards, Senator Walter S. Felag Jr. and Senator Louis P. DiPalma are sponsoring legislation that would block the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s (RITBA) plans to place placing a toll on the heavily-traveled bridge.

Edwards’ bill, 2013-H5137, would have the House of Representatives repeal Article 20 of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, preventing the Rhode Island Department of Transportation from turning control of the bridge over to the RITBA.

In doing so, Edwards would repeal the decision to allow RITBA to put the toll on the bridge and would strip the organization’s authority to have final say in the funds collected from said 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.”

Felag, who is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill (2013-S 0020) feels this matter is a true test of the state’s desire to attract businesses to Rhode Island.

“If the governor and the General Assembly truly want economic development, they must rescind this toll so that businesses will not stay away,” he said.

An additional bill (2013-H 5069), also sponsored by Edwards, also 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 is planning a similar 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.”

Edwards’ first bill in the House, which has been referred to the House Finance Committee, has been co-sponsored by four other Representatives. The second bill, also sponsored by the same members of the House, has been referred to the House Committee on Municipal Government.

Felag’s bill, meanwhile, has been cosponsored by Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and three of Felag’s colleagues in the Senate. It has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.


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