2008-01-10 / Front Page

Bridge authority hears local concerns

By Michaela Kennedy

Islanders and West Bay residents had their chance to air their opinions about the state of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority on Monday at the Jamestown library. Not only locals but residents from a host of communities from Warwick to Narragansett packed the meeting room.

The RITBA board of directors has taken bridge consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas study to the public to encourage dialogue between the authority and communities that frequently use the bridges. Roger Haight, bridge engineer from PB Americas, outlined findings from their study about maintaining the financial and operational health of the bridges over the next 20 years. The report from PB Americas can be viewed in full on the RITBA Web site.

The query in most people's minds in the room was clear: why was the tollgate taken off the Mount Hope Bridge 10 years ago? Dick Karon of America Way told the bridge delegation that he was "disheartened" to see that West Bay residents continue to subsidize the Mount Hope Bridge. "It's a high priority for us for you to reinstate the toll," he commented about the bridge that connects Portsmouth and Bristol.

Richard Kingsley from Clinton Avenue commented on the RITBA's view that building and staffing a tollgate at the Mount Hope Bridge would be more expensive than the trouble was worth. He advised that options for cost efficient tolls were available, and offered his time to discuss them in detail at a later date.

When asked what the expenditures on the Mount Hope Bridge have been since the toll was removed, RITBA Executive Director Earl "Buddy" Croft responded that up to $35 million was spent on the 78-year-old bridge over the last 10 years.

Commuters from North Kingstown, Wakefield and Narragansett stressed that not just Jamestown residents but West Bay residents as well used the Newport Bridge as their home-bound road.

Talk of installing an EZPass system, with monthly or even yearly toll passes available for frequent users, were discussed. Candy Powell of Mount Hope Avenue mentioned that some employers who pay for transportation may be hesitant to buy passes for part-time workers in case they took advantage of the pass during off-work hours. "You may want to re-visit the idea of keeping the toll coins," she said.

In response to the option of increased bridge toll, Powell suggested that consideration for non-profit agencies be given. "In my case, visiting nurses taking care of clients cross the bridges several times a day to visit clients or patients," she said. Powell asked that toll fare be reduced, or at least not raised, for the organizations.

Powell also questioned the cost of necklace lighting on both bridges and if they really needed to be on every day. "Does it give a good message of efficiency? No one in this room grew up without a father or parent saying, turn lights out when you leave the room," she commented. The audience responded in laughter. "And please tell me that no one will ever consider putting advertisements on the bridge," she added, with more laughter following. Croft told Powell that expenses incurred by the necklace lighting averaged about $24,000 a year.

Dan Capuano from Cedar Lane stood up to praise the Authority. "Your corporation is doing a heck of a job," he said. He went on to suggest that RITBA offer some benefit to Jamestown, possibly in the form of support for education. "Give back to the school depart- ment. It would make a lot of people here happy."

Members of the Newport Fire Department talked with Jamestowners and aired complaints among themselves at the meeting. Fire trucks from Newport come over the bridge all the time to help out Jamestown, said firefighter Paul DelBonis from Newport. "We get stopped and charged every time," he added. "If we fly through, they send the fire station a bill. Newport firefighters should be allowed to answer an emergency for free."

More complaints were overheard in conversations outside the meeting room. Many people agreed that every day they witnessed out of state cars, often from Connecticut and New York that flew through the tollgate without even rolling down windows to throw in a coin. Unidentified attendees said uncollected revenues from vehicles that are not stopped could add up to a significant amount.

Don Richardson of Davis Street said he thought it was important that as many people who could attend as possible should go to the RITBA presentation in Bristol on Monday, Jan. 14, "to express that people here have incurred all the expense of their bridge."

The audience was united in expressing that residents on this side of the state cannot bear the burden of both bridges, and that commuters are heavily impacted.

After the meeting, Croft said he thought the meeting was productive. The gathering gave the board of directors a chance to not only talk about the options offered by PB Americas, "but much more importantly gives the board the opportunity to talk with the people in the communities," he said.

Croft also said the board looks forward to the meeting on Monday in Bristol. "We realize that some of the options would precipitate change, and change can be good."

For more information, visit online at www.ritba.org. Comments and questions for the Authority may be directed to Croft at buddy@ritba. org.

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