2016-01-07 / Around Town

DiPalma Backs Truck Tolls

By Tom Walsh


Sen. Louis DiPalma Sen. Louis DiPalma State Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, DMiddletown, supports imposing a new highway toll on 18-wheel trucks and maintains that he would also back state borrowing for infrastructure projects provided that it leads to quicker action to repair Rhode Island's worst roads and bridges.

“We need to get some of this work done sooner rather than later,” DiPalma said in an interview with Newport This Week as the Assembly returned to the Statehouse to open its 2016 session. He said the state has failed to properly maintain many of its roads and bridges. “Provided we maintain these structures as we should have in the past, the big costs go away until sometime in the future,” he added. “What we have now is a billion dollar problem.”

In 2014, DiPalma, whose District 12 Senate seat includes Tiverton, Little Compton and a portion of Newport as well as Middletown, steadfastly opposed a plan to collect tolls from all vehicles using the then-new Sakonnet River Bridge. The Sakonnet tolling plan was subsequently nixed by the General Assembly.

Now, he said, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), which is responsible for maintaining the Sakonnet span has sufficient state funding to perform routine maintenance on its bridges without new tolls for that purpose. RITBA also maintains the Newport Claiborne Pell, Jamestown and Mount Hope bridges.

Rhode Island is reported to lead the nation in the disrepair of its highways and bridges. Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has proposed tolls on so-called big-rig trucks to pay for infrastructure repair. “Rhode- Works,” as the governor has called her plan to finance infrastructure repair, would issue $600 million in bonds this July for immediate road improvements. Future toll revenue would in theory pay for these bonds.

According to DiPalma, electronics for the scrubbed Sakonnet bridge toll gantry have been removed, but the gantry structure itself remains. If the Assembly ultimately enacts the governor’s legislation needed to make all of this happen, DiPalma said, then the state should “take the gantry off that bridge and put it somewhere else.”

A significant roadblock to getting necessary legislation enacted may have been removed on Tuesday, Jan. 5, when the governor made public her preliminary list of 14 sites for truck toll gantries.

None of the sites, according to the state Department of Transportation’s map, are on or near Aquidneck Island.

Most of the sites would be placed on major interstate highways in the Providence metropolitan area. Two are on southern portions of Interstate Route 95 and four are on Route 295 that circumvents the metro area.

“I believe we can get this done sooner or later,” DiPalma said. “We will probably have a vigorous and robust debate on it. But I’m not one for kicking the can down the road any longer.”

According to a Rhode Island Department of Transportation listing of the state’s bridges and their condition, one Newport bridge - on Armstrong Avenue near the Gate 4 Naval Access Road was rated as “poor.” Several others were rated as “fair.” They include the Van Zandt Avenue railroad bridge, the Goat Island causeway and Ocean Avenue at Goose Neck Cove. In Middletown, two bridges were rated as just “fair.” They are Easton Pond Channel on Memorial Boulevard near Easton’s Beach and West Main Road over Norman Brook.

Beyond the state's roadways, Di- Palma, first elected to the Senate in 2008 after serving on the Middletown Town Council for four years, has long been concerned about the performance of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

“We need to continue our oversight of DCYF,” he said, adding that Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed continues to be concerned with this matter as well. He said a Senate DCYF Task Force convened in 2014 continues to meet and that many Rhode Island children “are counting on us to get this right.”

DiPalma said that two things are most important on this issue– first, improving the lives of those in DCYF care and, secondly, prevention.

“I believe the governor is committed to improving the lives of children in our care,” DiPalma said. “But right now we are nowhere near where we need to be. The legislature will continue to be vigilant in its oversight of DCYF. Kids are really more importan - and a bigger challenge - than infrastructure. But kids and families just are not at the Statehouse. Someone has to be their voice.”

And, DiPalma concluded, “We need to fix this. DCYF still needs attention. Lives depend on it. Longterm, if we address this, some of the ills we have when kids become adults would be much less.”

The first vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said he plans to run for a fifth Senate term this year.

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