§ 24-17-2. Legislative findings.
The general assembly finds that:
(1) The State of Rhode Island, through the Rhode Island Department of Transportation ("RIDOT"), funds the repair, replacement, and maintenance of bridges in Rhode Island, except the Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge.
(2) Rhode Island depends on three primary sources for funding all transportation infrastructure construction, maintenance, and operations. These sources are Federal funds, State bond funds, and motor fuel tax revenue. Of these sources, two (Federal funds and motor fuel tax revenue) are mutable.
(3) The 2008 Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Funding and the 2011 Senate Special Commission on Sustainable Transportation funding determined that there is insufficient revenue available from all existing sources to fund the maintenance and improvement of Rhode Island transportation infrastructure.
(4) In 2011, the Rhode Island general assembly adopted a component of the recommended systemic change to transportation funding by creating the Rhode Island Highway Maintenance Trust Fund, to be funded by an increase in license and registration fees and contributions from the Rhode Island Capital Plan (RICAP) fund, beginning in FY2014.
(5) Although the State is shifting from long-term borrowing to annual revenues to fund transportation infrastructure, there is still a funding gap between the revenue needed to maintain all roads and bridges in good condition and the annual amounts generated by current revenue sources.
(6) The State has sufficient financial resources to complete the construction of the new Sakonnet River Bridge and to demolish the existing Sakonnet River Bridge, but does not have sufficient financial resources to assure the future maintenance and operation of the Sakonnet River Bridge.
(7) There is limited access to and from Rhode Island's East Bay, consisting of Bristol and Newport Counties, and this access is restricted both by geography and infrastructure. The most critical infrastructure includes the four bridges that comprise the access to Aquidneck Island and Conanicut Island. These four bridges make up less than half a percent of the total bridges in the state, but comprise approximately twenty percent of the deck area of all Rhode Island bridges.
(8) Two of the four bridges, the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, are owned and maintained by RIDOT. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority ("RITBA") currently owns and maintains the other two bridges: the Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge.
(9) In the current economic and political climate, cooperation between State departments and/or quasi-public agencies provides the best opportunity to maximize financial and knowledge- based resources.
(10) RITBA currently assesses a toll for passage over the Newport Bridge, and this toll serves as the sole source of revenue for RITBA to maintain both the Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge and related appurtenances.
(11) The Federal Highway Administration allows for the placement of tolls on certain transportation infrastructure in order to assure the improvement and proper operation and maintenance of the structure and associated roadways.
(12) The current toll structure places undue burden on the residents, businesses, and visitors who must use the Newport Bridge to access work, schools, shopping, and other essential services. It is crucial to establish a comprehensive strategy to fund and maintain the bridges connecting the East Bay.
(13) The transfer of the Sakonnet River Bridge and its appurtenances and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and its appurtenances to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority would be in the best interests of the State of Rhode Island and its residents, particularly those living and working in the East Bay.
(14) The placement of a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge, under the direction of RITBA, would serve to create a more viable means of funding future maintenance and repairs of the East Bay bridges and would allow for the establishment of a more equitable toll structure, along with a fund for capital transportation projects and preventive maintenance in the East Bay.
(P.L. 2012, ch. 241, art. 20, § 1.)