2002 No Action
2001 No Action
2000 No Action
1998 No Action
1995 No Action
July 26, 2002
TO THE HONORABLE, THE SENATE:
In accordance with the provisions of Rhode Island Laws § General 43-1-4, I am transmitting herewith, with my disapproval, 2002 S-2373, Substitute A, "An Act Relating to Highways - Construction and Maintenance of State Roads."
This bill would prohibit any toll charge or fee in connection with any repairs and/or replacement of the Sakonnet River Bridge (the "Bridge"). The bill further prohibits transfer of the Bridge to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority without approval by the General Assembly.
I veto this bill because I believe the people of Newport and Bristol County expect and deserve a new Sakonnet River Bridge and that a new structure is in the best interests of the State of Rhode Island. I also believe that all options must be left open for the next Governor and General Assembly to achieve this end. I do not favor tolling this bridge, nor do I favor ruling out by law any toll forever. Doing so could result in the elimination of any possibility of a new bridge ever being built.
The Bridge is substandard and requires extensive continuing repairs and maintenance. Its useful life is nearing its end. Not building now requires a temporary, and very costly band-aid that does not solve the problem. As DOT has stated: "Repairs would be completed only as needed to address failing structural or functional elements. Repairs would cause significant traffic delays and would not address structural and functional deficiencies such as seismic requirements and the presence of fracture critical elements. Weight restrictions would be required as well as inevitable replacement," The estimated cost of the necessary repairs and maintenance would be around $15 million and would extend the life of the Bridge only 7 to 10 years at most. Before the end of this period, the Bridge would have to be replaced - at a higher cost than it can be replaced today. The only alternative then would be to shut down the Bridge for safety reasons.
A new bridge is estimated to cost around $111 million today. That bridge, properly maintained, could achieve a 75 year useful life. In my view, that option is in the best interests of Rhode Islanders and must be kept on the table.
There are several possibilities to pay for a new bridge. Tolls are merely one option, one that I do not prefer. Indeed, it was my Administration that fought to eliminate the toll on the Mount Hope Bridge. Unfortunately, this General Assembly all but took away the ability to use another option ~ an increase in the gas tax by 1 penny a gallon to pay for the bridge. That increase would have brought in enough annual revenue to pay for the bridge over 35 years. One of the many bad public policy decisions made by the General Assembly in its budget was to increase the gas tax by 2 cents to pay for non transportation programs. Had it not done so, the State could have had a revenue source for a new bridge. Our gas tax may now be too high vis a vis neighboring states to increase it again. Nonetheless, all options must be kept on the table.
It is also possible, though unlikely, that the federal government could provide a special allocation for a new Bridge. State general revenue could also support a bonded project. In fact, taking less than half of the State's annual subsidy to the greyhound owners at Lincoln Greyhound Park would finance this project in full. Some combination of the above or other mechanisms could also be explored. Again, the key is to keep all options on the table until a financing plan is developed.
I should note that this bill is unnecessary, for those who fear tolls without General Assembly approval. Current law already provides the General Assembly with power to control bridge financing. The Kushner Act, Rhode Island General Laws § 35-18-1 et seq., requires General Assembly approval before incurring significant debt of this nature. Most importantly, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority could not finance and/or toll the Sakonnet River Bridge without an affirmative legislative mandate.
I also oppose the second pan of the bill which would prevent the Turnpike and Bridge Authority from ever assuming responsibility for a new bridge. The Authority is uniquely suited to manage major bridges such as the Sakonnet River Bridge structure. This specialized agency has the expertise, personnel, and equipment to operate and properly maintain this critical State investment. Further, the Turnpike and Bridge Authority provides valuable services to adjacent communities. The Authority has paid for or maintained feeder roads associated with the Newport and Mount Hope Bridges -paving, cleaning, de-icing, plowing, landscaping, crack sealing, signage, etc. - at no cost to the local communities.
The Sakonnet River Bridge is an integral component of Rhode Island's transportation infrastructure. Maintaining access across the Sakonnet River is, however, costly. Finding a way to financing a new bridge will allow the State to meet the objective of providing better, safer, faster, and more efficient access over the Sakonnet River without adversely affecting local cities and towns. Most importantly, it will improve the quality of life for commuters and local communities.
Ultimately, the decision on how to pay for a new Sakonnet River Bridge will rest in the hands of my successor and the next General Assembly. With this veto, I am keeping all options on the table.
For the foregoing reasons, I disapprove of this legislation and respectfully urge your support of this veto.