PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island senators unanimously passed a bill that would allow the agency that runs the Newport Pell Bridge to more quickly go after drivers who repeatedly fail to pay the toll.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Middletown, sailed through the Senate last week, and its companion bill is now in the House Finance Committee.
“We have people who have gone through the toll hundreds of times and thumbed their nose at the toll and said to the rest of us, ‘I don’t care,'” DiPalma said. “It is an issue of fairness and equity.”
As Target 12 first reported, drivers going over the Newport Pell Bridge have racked up $9.6 million in unpaid tolls plus fees and fines over the last six years, yet the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority is often powerless to go after them because of the minimum number of free trips required by law to trigger action.
The vast majority of the $9.6 million — 85% — represents fees and fines, meaning only about $1.4 million is actual unpaid tolls.
RITBA can ask the Division of Motor Vehicles to put a freeze on license and motor vehicle registration renewals when a driver goes over the bridge 20 times or more without paying. After 100 free rides, RITBA can take the driver to court.
The law changes the threshold that triggers action by the DMV from 20 free trips to 10, and the threshold to take a driver to court from 100 unpaid tolls to 20.
Josh Block, a spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo, said if the legislation passes the House, she intends to sign the bill into law.