2014-06-05 / Front Page

Sakonnet Toll Could Disappear

By Tom Walsh

With the General Assembly pushing for adjournment later this month, strong signals have emerged that lawmakers will do away with the Sakonnet River Bridge toll before they go home.

The first such indication came with a published report on Wednesday, June 4, in which influential House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said flatly that tolls would be abolished on the Sakonnet River Bridge that connects Portsmouth with Tiverton.

For Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, DMiddletown, whose bill submitted earlier this legislative session appeared to be the model for enacting the demise of the 10-cent Sakonnet toll, the speaker’s words were like sweet music.

“It was a great moment when I heard that,” DiPalma said of the way he felt when he learned what the speaker had said. “I did not know the speaker was going to say that.”

DiPalma said that he’d learned subsequently that the Sakonnet River Bridge issue would be included as a separate article in the bill to establish a new $8.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1. The House Finance Committee was poised to consider the budget legislation on Thursday, June 5.

“I can’t speak for the leadership,” DiPalma said. “Some of the details are still being worked out. There are still a lot of moving parts.” However, he said he expected that the legislation would give equal weight to removing the Sakonnet tolls, establishing a state transportation fund to maintain roads and bridges, ensuring no toll increase for the Claiborne Pell Bridge that joins Newport and Jamestown, and addressing mass transit improvements.

The former high school football player in his native Connecticut declared, “Two weeks ago we were in the red zone. We’re now at fourth and goal. It’s been a team effort. We are addressing a long-term problem with a long-term solution.”

Other questions apparently remained to be answered, not the least of which was how the state will pay for it all. DiPalma said he thought that issue would be settled with “a preponderance of money from existing dollars.” He said this could involve fee increases and a “combination of old money and new money.”

Despite the positive signal, Di- Palma was not quite ready to declare victory.

“I remain cautiously optimistic that this will get through this session,” he said. “It’s not done until it’s done.”

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