RITBA E-Z Pass forums extended
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority held a series of public information forums this week to address residents' concerns regarding the proposed institution of the E-Z Pass Program on the Newport Pell Bridge. The forums were held on Saturday and Tuesday in Jamestown and on Monday in Newport. State Senator M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D- Jamestown, Newport) Representative Bruce Long
(R-Jamestown, Middletown,) and Long's house seat opponent Deb Ruggiero were in attendance along with members of the public and representatives from RITBA and E-Z Pass.
According to RITBA Chairman David Darlington, the forums revealed a continued need for discussion. "Based on the feedback we've received so far, we feel there is a need for further public input," he said. Sen. Paiva-Weed, who has long been an active participant in the E-Z Pass program discussions, requested a forum with a slightly different format and RITBA responded positively. "The initial forums were designed to allow for a lot of one-to-one interaction between concerned citizens, RITBA representatives and representatives from the E-Z Pass Program," Darlington said. "Due to the complexity of the issues, we felt this would be the best way to address concerns. However, in order to be as responsive to the publics' concern as we can, we will be holding another forum next week with a slightly different format." That forum will be held on Tuesday evening at that Hyatt Regency in Newport at 7 p.m. The format will include a presentation and an opportunity for citizens to publicly raise concerns and receive answers, according to Darlington.
Some of the most pressing questions raised at the forums involved cost, accessibility, and privacy concerns. Bret Harrington, a frequent user who resides in Coventry and is employed at Newport Hospital, raised a concern that many local citizens share when he questioned why revenues from the Pell Bridge are used to support the Mt. Hope Bridge. "Why should the people who use the Pell Bridge be forced to pay to maintain the Mt. Hope Bridge when those users are not asked to pay anything?" he said.
Don Richardson, a long time RIBTA employee, concurred, "I am very much opposed to paying upkeep for the Mount Hope Bridge. Over the last 10 years, $35 million in revenue raised on the Pell Bridge has gone to maintain the Mt. Hope Bridge," Richardson said.
Paiva-Weed and Darlington both pointed to the fact that though RITBA has the authority to re-institute a toll on the Mt. Hope Bridge they do not have the authority to raise the pre-set toll limit. "That limit was set some time in the 1950s and remains at 10-cents," Paiva-Weed said. Darlington also pointed out that Governor Carcieri has appointed a blue ribbon panel to address Rhode Island's overall transportation needs and identify sources of funding. "We are waiting for the panel to address the issue of the Mt. Hope Bridge," Darlington said.
Other concerns raised were: the cost of transponders, whether or not out of state transponders may be utilized, what exactly the rates will be set at and what consumers can do with unused tokens. According to Darlington rates and costs will not be determined until all of the public forums are held and the board meets on Sept. 24.
Out of state transponders may be utilized, but Darlington recommends that residents purchase a Rhode Island transponder in order to take advantage of the resident discount. "If a Rhode Island resident purchases a Rhode Island transponder they will receive the local discount and they will still receive the E-Z Pass rate when traveling out of state," Darlington said.
Richard Marquartt and Sue Desvernine, a local couple who attended Tuesday night's forum, were happy to discover that unused tokens can be turned in. "Tokens may be turned in for cash reimbursement for a period of time and following that period may be used as credits," Darlington said. Marquartt and Desvernine described themselves as being, "on board completely," with the E-Z Pass Program. "We travel a lot. We are often in New Hampshire or visiting my brother in Virginia and the E-Z Pass Program will make travel a lot easier," Desvernine said. "I think it is really going to speed things up," Marquartt said.
A final concern raised by Eleanor Doumato on behalf of the RI affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union involved the issue of privacy. According to a memo addressed to RITBA the RI affiliate of the ACLU is requesting that RITBA "adopt a policy that makes confidential any personally identifying information of persons who purchase and use the E-Z Pass technology." In response Darlington said, "It is already our policy not to release any information regarding individuals to anyone without a direct subpoena. It appears that the ACLU would like us to codify our policy in a certain manner. We are not opposed to that request."