Chafee Calls Sakonnet Toll Necessary To Avoid Debt + Deterioration

Aug 22, 2013

Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Governor Lincoln Chafee isn't backing away from the state's placement of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, despite sharp opposition from residents and business owners in the East Bay.

Chafee says he understands the toll is unpopular and that many people are economically squeezed, but he calls the approach necessary.

"Unless there's a better way to maintain our bridges, which there hasn't been yet, I won't pass on future costs to our children and grandchildren," Chafee said Thursday during a taping of RIPR's Political Roundtable.

During the close of the legislative session earlier this year, East Bay lawmakers floated a plan to fund bridge maintenance of through motor vehicle inspection fees and other sources. The addition of tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge was initially delayed and then reintroduced during a bumpy end to the House budget process. That came as lawmakers learned the absence of a toll on the new bridge could prevent one from ever being added.

Chafee said the 10 cent toll introduced as a placeholder earlier this week is necessary to avoid the running down of the four bridges under the aegis of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and to fund their upkeep.

A legislative commission is slated to start meeting in September to consider approaches for paying for maintaining bridges. Chafee calls the issue a matter of practicality.

"The reason we're looking at tolls is because we failed to maintain the old Sakonnet bridge," he says, "and all you have to do driving over the new Sakonnet bridge, if you're going toward Portsmouth, is look to your right, and you see an old bridge being torn down because we failed to maintain it."

State Transportation head Michael Lewis has said the Sakonnet was targeted for a toll since it's the most heavily-trafficked of the four bridges under the aegis of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. Chafee says that still makes sense.

"The high volume on the Sakonnet bridge means if we toll that, then the tolls are going to be lower," the governor says. "If you toll the Mount Hope Bridge, for instance, with a lower volume, unfortunately, the tolls are going to be higher."

Roundtable will be broadcast Friday morning at 5:40 and 7:40.