Critics want RITBA dissolved into DOT

Sakonnet River Bridge

Critics of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority say it is wasting money. They point to things like a state highway map, which is sponsored in part by the authority.

It may be only a $7,500 investment. But why, critics ask, is the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority sponsoring anything?

"Their money is supposed to be spent for bridge maintenance," said John Vitkevich of the Portsmouth Business Association.

RITBA Chairman Dave Darlington said it is in the best interest of the authority to assist in tourism promotion, which is why the authority paid for portable toilets at the tall ships festival.

"Tall ships, as you know, is an enormous tourism event that happens here every three or four years. It drives a lot of people through the toll plaza, which generates revenue for the Turnpike and Bridge Authority. So, we will sponsor certain events," Darlington said.

He said that even justifies sponsorship of traffic reports on local radio stations.

Vitkevich said that proves the agency needs to be dissolved and bridge maintenance turned over entirely to the state Department of Transportation.

"We have bridge engineers at the Department of Transportation. We have more than four bridges in the state. Why do we have to have that duplication of services? The Turnpike and Bridge Authority doesn't do any of the maintenance work themselves. They contract out to every bridge company that there is to contract out to, and that costs money because they have to have their lawyers review contracts. What I'm getting at is there's a $3.1 million expense for operating the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. That's what it costs to employ their 31 full-time employees," Vitkevich said. "We don't need it."

Darlington said turning over the tolling operation to a state department would not save much money. He said most of the employees would have to stay on because they're involved in collecting tolls on the Newport-Pell Bridge and that making them all state employees would end up costing more money.

Nonetheless, a bill in the legislature that would direct maintenance funds to the Department of Transportation would reduce the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to a toll collecting division of the DOT.

It's currently in committee.