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State Rep. John "Jay" Edwards was a guest on WHJJ's Helen Glover show when the issue came up of requiring motorists to pay a toll to cross the Sakonnet River Bridge, which connects Portsmouth and Tiverton and is a main thoroughfare to and from Aquidneck Island. Edwards represents both towns.
"It's just another tax on the people who live in East Bay," he said. "I'm sure there is going to be a split fare between the people who have a Rhode Island E-ZPass and those who do not. They're saying that 40 percent of the traffic that goes over that is [from] out of state."
Glover expressed skepticism over that percentage. "I think that's mostly locals commuting for jobs," she said.
It sounded like the perfect thing to track down.
We called Edwards to find out precisely who "they" are. He told us he got the information from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and said he had his own doubts about the factoid. "I think they may be using it to make it sound more palatable," he said.
When we contacted the DOT, spokesman Bryan Lucier, wrote us to say "The Director [Michael Lewis] has stated publicly that approximately 40 percent of the traffic is from out of state."
Lucier said the percentage comes from a DOT study that tracked license plate numbers. He told us that 38.2 percent of the cars and trucks traveling southbound -- from Tiverton to Portsmouth -- had out-of-state plates and 31.4 percent going northbound.
Average daily out-of-state volume was 35.1 percent, not 40.
The traffic count was done on just two days in the middle of winter -- Jan. 26, a Thursday, and Jan. 28, a Saturday. And it was conducted only from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The afternoon rush hour was not included.
Among the out-of-state vehicles, 90 percent had Massachusetts license plates, 2 percent were from Connecticut, and 1 percent were from New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey.
The bridge currently has an 18-ton weight limit, which requires a lot of trucks to detour around it. Lucier said the expectation is that when the bridge is replaced, truck traffic will increase and that will increase the percentage of out-of-state vehicles using it.
Rep. John Edwards said, "They're saying that 40 percent of the traffic that goes over [the Sakonnet River Bridge is from] out of state."
The DOT says Edwards is correctly quoting Michael Lewis, who has been saying "approximately 40 percent" and whose source is a two-day traffic study commissioned by the DOT that concludes that the actual percentage is 35.
Clearly, when he was talking to Glover, Edwards was saying that the data wasn't his and he told us, after the fact, that he had doubts about its accuracy. It turns out, he may have reason for skepticism.
We rate the statement made by Lewis and repeated by Edwards Mostly True.
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920WHJJ.com, "Rep John Edwards," Feb. 7, 2012, accessed Feb. 8, 2012
Interview, Rep. John Edwards, Tiverton and Portsmouth, Feb. 8, 2012
Interviews and e-mails, Bryan Lucier, spokesman, Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Feb. 10-16, 2012,
ScribD.com "Sakonnet Study," Sakonnet River Bridge Out-Of-State License Plate Survey Memorandum, Commonwealth Engineers & Consultants, Feb. 6, 2012, accessed Feb. 14, 2012
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