RI bills would prevent Sakonnet bridge toll

Two state lawmakers representing parts of the eastern part of Rhode Island are pushing bills to prevent tolls at the new Sakonnet River Bridge.

The Senate Finance Committee plans to review the legislation sponsored by Sen. Walter Felag and Sen. Louis DiPalma at a meeting Wednesday.

Lawmakers last year approved a plan to turn the bridge over to the state's Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which could place a toll to pay to maintain it. Authorities have said tolls could start in June.

Many residents and businesses say tolls will be too expensive and could cause people to think twice before visiting Aquidneck Island and the East Bay.

"It would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in sales," said Walter Guertler of Redlefson's in Bristol. "Nobody is going to add $8 more to their dinner bill. They're already spending money for gas. They're spending higher sales tax."

One proposal would remove the bridge from RITBA's authority and return it to the state Department of Transportation. Another would try to raise the estimated $10 million the tolls would generate by adding $20 to motor vehicle registrations.

A third measure would take Gov. Lincoln Chafee's proposal for $10 million in municipal aid and put it into a bridge maintenance fund.

"The bridge infrastructure is a statewide issue. It's equity and fairness across the state. Transportation infrastructure affects everyone," DiPalma said.