2008-09-04 / Front Page

Public hearings planned on Newport Bridge EZ Pass

RITBA gives short notice for three public meetings
By Eileen M. Daly

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority's (RITBA) proposed institution of an EZ Pass toll program has raised concerns and questions. According to Representative Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) and State Senator Teresa Paiva Weed, (D- Jamestown, Newport) RITBA initially proposed instituting the EZ Pass toll program after a series of public hearings. Recently, according to Long and Paiva Weed, it appeared that RITBA was poised to go forward with the EZ Pass program without the agreed upon public meetings.

"It is not that we necessarily object to the program," Long said, "It is just that many of our constituents still have unanswered questions as to exactly how the program is going to be instituted."

Paiva-Weed agreed with Long's assessment. "Overall the e-mails I have received from my constituents support the EZ Pass program. There are, however, many unanswered questions about how the program is going to be implemented."

In order to ensure that these questions do not go unanswered, Long and Paiva Weed collaborated on a letter sent to RITBA Chairman David Darlington last week requesting that the implementation of the EZ Pass program be delayed until a number of community forums could be held. "Please give our citizens the opportunity to ask their questions and have input into the program's roll out," the letter read in part.

The letter also identified some of the more pressing questions area residents have raised such as: What will the impact be for local residents, especially the elderly or those on fixed incomes? Why will tokens no longer be useful? Will residents need to pay for a transponder if they are infrequent users? How expensive will the tolls be for local residents if they do not have an EZ Pass? Will family members, health aides or other associates stop coming to Newport if Newporters can no longer provide them with tokens for the bridge?

Other questions not contained in the letter, but still of concern to residents according to Long and Paiva Weed include: How is the RI EZ Pass going to differ from other EZ Pass programs? Will residents who have EZ Passes from neighboring states such as Massachusetts or Connecticut be able to use those passes here in RI? Will residents be able to trade a neighboring state's EZ Pass in for a Rhode Island EZ Pass if those passes are not honored?

Long made a particular point of emphasizing his belief that the Pell Bridge toll should not carry the burden of supporting other local bridges. "There are four bridges that are being supported by the Pell toll: The Pell Bridge, the Jamestown Bridge, the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge. This has to stop," Long said. According to Long, residents are especially adverse to the Pell toll supporting the Mount Hope Bridge. "The Pell Bridge tolls ought to go toward supporting the Pell Bridge and not be used to support other bridges in the state," Long said.

Both Long and Paiva Weed agree that RITBA has been responsive to their expressed concerns. "We have a positive relationship with RITBA and they are very responsive to our concerns," Paiva Weed said.

In response to the letter sent by Long and Paiva Weed, RITBA Executive Director Buddy Croft announced on Tuesday that RITBA plans to hold a series of informational open houses to discuss the EZ Pass program. These forums will be available to the public and hosted by RITBA to answer questions and take input of the proposed implementation of the EZ Pass system on the Pell Bridge, according to the press release. The forums will inform the public on what is proposed to date and there will be displays and staff on hand to demonstrate the equipment.

Forum dates, times and locations are as follows: Saturday, Sept. 6, from 9 a.m. to noon at the RITBA Administrative Office/Maintenance Facility in Jamestown; Monday, Sept. 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Colony House, Washington Square in Newport; Tuesday Sept. 9, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the RITBA Administrative Office/Maintenance Facility in Jamestown.

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