Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Tiverton, Portsmouth) and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D-Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) are introducing bills aimed at preventing the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority from on the Mount Hope and Sakonnet River bridges.
In a press release Friday, the legislators said they want to send a message to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority that any request it may make for tolls on those bridges is going to be met with stiff opposition in the General Assembly.
“We’ve said time and time again that the Turnpike and Bridge Authority isn’t going to hold the people of the East Bay and Aquidneck Island hostage. If they try to put in these tolls, we will fight them tooth and nail on behalf of our constituents,” Gallison said.
Gallison and Edwards have introduced bills banning tolls on the Mount Hope and Sakonnet River bridges, respectively, and Felag has introduced both bills in the Senate. All have introduced the bills in previous years, but say they are more concerned than ever about discussions the Turnpike and Bridge Authority has been having about creating new tolls.
In order for tolls to be established, the authority would need the General Assembly to pass enabling legislation, and the trio of legislators said they would vehemently oppose any such bill.
“As it is, those who live on or visit Aquidneck Island already have to deal with tolls of $4 each way on the Pell Bridge, and those were only allowed because the authority agreed not to charge tolls on the other bridges," Edwards said. "At least now, drivers have the option, even if it’s not always the most convenient one, of getting to or from this part of the state a different way. But if tolls are allowed on all the bridges, people in this area will be made to open their wallets every time they need to go to another part of the state, and that’s just completely unfair to residents. It will also hurt businesses, who will likely lose plenty of customers who would prefer to go somewhere that doesn’t require them to pay a toll.”
The legislators say reinstating the tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge, which connects Bristol and Portsmouth would be breaking a promise made to Rhode Islanders from over a decade ago. Tolls were eliminated from Mount Hope in 1998 when the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority said tolls on the nearby Pell Bridge, which cost drivers $2 per axle to cross, would provide plenty of money to maintain both.
Felag, who has been opposed to tolls for all of his 13 years as a state senator, said, “We all have to work harder these days to live within our means. The Turnpike and Bridge Authority should learn that lesson. East Bay residents and Aquidneck Islanders are already struggling, and taxing them every time they leave the area is just going to mean fewer people and businesses will be able to afford to stay here. More tolls are going to hurt the economy right now.”