Commission looks at alternatives to Sakonnet tolls

A special legislative commission created to study the funding of East Bay bridges met Wednesday to look at how safety inspections, license renewal fees and other revenue streams could help maintain the bridges.

"We have a daunting task as an authority to maintain under our care," said Buddy Croft, executive director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.

The quasi-public Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is in charge of four bridges: Pell, Mount Hope, Jamestown Verrazzano and Sakonnet River.

The RITBA already charges a toll on those crossing the Pell Bridge, and just a few months ago it started collecting a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

The authority said it needs to raise toll rates. If not, the authority says it will be tens of millions of dollars in the hole.

A small but vocal group is absolutely against increased tolls and wants those other streams heavily considered.

"If you put a toll on Sakonnet River Bridge, you're turning it into a gated community. I have to pay to go to work. I have to pay to go home," said Antone{}Viveiros, of Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform.

Viveiros said just figuring out a plan for the East Bay bridges is a waste of time. He said he thinks the state should spend the time figuring out how to maintain and repair all infrastructure in the state.

"Do the right thing for the people. That's what we sent them here for," Viveiros said.

The commission heard from both lawmakers and members of the public.{} Its next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21.