2011-09-22 / About Town

RITBA looks at open-road tolling

In keeping with its policy to regularly review toll rates, the board of directors of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority recently engaged in a discussion about the need to increase tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge.

“In 2009, RITBA held numerous public meetings to discuss the future of tolling on the Newport Pell and Mount Hope Bridges as well as to discuss the revenue and maintenance needs of both bridges,” said David Darlington, chairman. “Keeping the bridges safe is our highest priority and their regular maintenance is costly. By adopting a predictable and regular toll schedule, we ensure that we meet our obligation to provide sufficient revenue to support the operations, maintenance and capital improvement requirements of both the Newport Pell and Mount Hope Bridges.”

The board heard presentations by RITBA’s financial and traffic engineering consultants, First Southwest and Jacobs. Darlington stated that the board would consider all the information presented and deferred a vote to a later board meeting.

One of the scenarios discussed was reinstating tolling on the Mount Hope Bridge. Darlington said that the board has a responsibility to look at all fair options, and stressed that the board would take absolutely no action on re-tolling without first seeking input from the public.

“We want to schedule public meetings, as we said we would do, to gather public input about re-tolling the Mount Hope Bridge and to discuss the formal traffic-and-revenue study. If we reach the conclusion that re-tolling Mount Hope is a fair and logical solution, we will then propose draft legislation to the General Assembly for their consideration.”

RITBA does not receive state or federal monies. All maintenance on the Newport Pell and Mount Hope Bridges is funded by toll revenue. The Sept. 8, 2009 toll increase was the first toll increase in the 43-year history of the bridge. The RITBA board increased the tolls after two years of public discussion and formal study. At that time, the board also voted to conduct a toll review every three years and to undertake a formal study of the reinstitution of tolls on the Mt Hope Bridge.

“We’re responsible for maintaining two bridges on one toll revenue stream,” said Darlington. “If reinstituting tolling on the Mount Hope Bridge were to become a reality, we can look at adjusting the Newport Pell Bridge toll rates. Tolling was discontinued on Mount Hope because the cost of collecting the tolls offset the revenue. That’s no longer a concern because we have the option now of all-electronic tolling.”

Additionally, the board discussed the feasibility of implementing openroad tolling on the Newport Pell Bridge, as discussed at its March 2011 meeting. Open-road tolling is an electronic toll collection system that permits motorists to drive through toll plazas without stopping to pay an attendant. Cameras mounted on the toll plaza take photos of license plates, and motorists who today pay by cash would instead receive invoices in the mail for their outstanding tolls. Holders of E-ZPass transponders would notice no change except for the elimination of gates on the Newport Pell Bridge.

“We know the public supports open-road tolling because it reduces lines at the toll plaza and is more convenient,” said Darlington. “In order to remove the gates, we would need to widen and reduce the number of toll lanes.”

The board voted to issue an request for proposal for open-road-tolling vendors and to consider public/private partnerships for the installation and collection of outstanding tolls.

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