- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island House and Senate leaders on Thursday announced a plan to kill the Sakonnet Bridge toll and hike the gas tax and some fees to raise money for a statewide transportation infrastructure fund.

The proposal is funded in multiple ways, including redirecting existing motor vehicle revenues, increasing vehicle inspection fees by $16 and doubling, to $50, the “good driver” ticket dismissal fee, House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison said. The gas tax would rise 1 cent beginning in July 2015.

The money in the infrastructure fund would go to road and bridge maintenance across the state as well as public transit.

The plan, if approved by the General Assembly, would represent a win for East Bay legislators, who have fought the toll for more than a year, calling it a burden to residents and a drag on tourism.

The proposal is included in the House version of the fiscal 2015 budget that is being considered Thursday night by the Finance Committee.

A 10-cent placeholder toll went into effect on the Sakonnet in August after a heated legislative debate last session over whether there should be any toll. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority had planned to raise it to pay for bridge maintenance, if the General Assembly took no action. RITBA would get over $14 million a year from the new fund under the plan, the bill sponsors said.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called the toll “unfair” but said the plan is about more than getting rid of it.

“What we’ve accomplished is greater than that,” he told reporters. “We are going to better our infrastructure across the state while eliminating the tolls on the East Bay. There’s no single burden that we’re imposing on anyone that’s oppressive. We have to invest in infrastructure.”

Majority Whip John Edwards, a vocal toll critic from Tiverton who is the lead sponsor of the House version of the transportation bill, called the fund a long-term solution that will address the state’s “Third World” roads.

The bridge authority said this week it has spent between $4.6 million and $5 million installing toll collection equipment on the Sakonnet.



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