PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Scores of residents from the East Bay gathered Wednesday at the Rhode Island Statehouse to urge lawmakers to block the state’s plans to impose a toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge.
Business owners and residents from Portsmouth, Newport and Middletown told lawmakers at a legislative hearing that a toll would be a burden on commuters and possible make visitors think twice about visiting Aquidneck Island.
‘‘Fifty percent of my business comes from Massachusetts,’’ restaurant owner Komes Rozes said. ‘‘This could hurt 50 percent of my business. There’s other ways to raise money.’’
Rick Hodges, president of the Hodges Badge Company Inc., said more than a third of his 90 employees use the Sakonnet bridge every day. ‘‘What am I supposed to tell them?’’ he said. ‘‘Am I supposed to relocate to Massachusetts?’’
Lawmakers last year approved a plan to turn the bridge over to the state’s Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which could place a toll to pay to maintain it. Officials have said tolls could start in June. The bridge carries Route 24 from Portsmouth to Tiverton.
The toll rate has not yet been set, but a state Department of Transportation report indicates it will be less than the rate for tolls on the Pell Bridge, which is 83 cents for in-state traffic with an E-ZPass transponder or $4 for out-of-state traffic or those paying cash.
Lawmakers representing the eastern part of the state are fighting the proposal. Sen. Walter Felag and Rep. John Edwards say the toll could be avoided by redirecting state money from other programs to bridge maintenance. They suggest using $10 million that Gov. Lincoln Chafee has proposed to help struggling municipalities.
‘‘This toll could have a massive negative effect on not only the residents of Aquidneck Island but on the business community as well,’’ said Edwards, D-Tiverton. ‘‘With economic development our No. 1 priority in the General Assembly, we cannot afford to allow a measure like this bridge toll to stifle our efforts, especially if there is $10 million available for a brand new program.’’