- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) - A group of state lawmakers is proposing legislation to raise more than $1 billion over the next decade for transportation while banning tolls on most East Bay bridges.

The proposal wouldn’t ban toll increases on the Pell Bridge. One sponsor, Democratic Sen. Louis DiPalma, of Middletown, told The Newport Daily News the lawmakers recognized that might violate the Pell Bridge’s bond covenants. He said with annual appropriations a toll increase shouldn’t be needed.

The legislation would ban tolls on the Sakonnet River, Jamestown-Verrazzano and Mount Hope bridges.

The sponsors said the legislature might have to extend an April 1 deadline for continuing the 10-cent toll limit lawmakers set last year for the Sakonnet bridge until a funding solution is decided. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority had voted a 75 cents-per-crossing toll for Rhode Island E-ZPass holders and $3.75 for out-of-state E-ZPass holders. Others would have been billed $5.25.

The bill announced Tuesday is a nonpartisan effort by three legislators who served on a special commission studying funding for the East Bay bridges. It comes up with most of the revenue from diverting existing revenue of spending cuts. It would raise $17.5 million through a temporary 5 percent surcharge to Department of Motor Vehicles fees.

Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee told the Daily News he’s open to all transportation funding options.

“I remain optimistic that a reasonable solution to tolling will be reached. If anyone has ideas on a revenue stream, I am open to hearing them,” Chafee said in an email. “The reality is that the money must come from somewhere.

The legislation would make the bridge authority a division of the Department of Transportation and allow the DOT and the authority to use less expensive state general obligation bonds for future projects.

Another sponsor, Republican Sen. Christopher S. Ottiano, of Portsmouth, told the Daily News it’s not about one bridge anymore.

“Now it’s all about the whole state’s infrastructure,” Ottiano said. “This is about looking 10 years down the line, and it lays out a pathway where the turnpike and bridge authority and DOT get the money they need to do it right.”

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Information from: The Newport Daily News.


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