2011-10-20 / Front Page

Islanders call for ‘shared sacrifice’ between Pell, Mt. Hope bridge users

BY KATHLEEN MCKIERNAN

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority held a public hearing on the viability of a bridge toll on the Mount Hope Bridge at the Jamestown Philomenian Library Monday night, and many islanders feel it is time motorists start sharing some of the burden.

“I can’t afford anymore increases,” said Karen Coltzer at the Oct. 17 hearing, who added that she pays $1,000 per year to use the Newport Pell Bridge. “The Mount Hope Bridge users need to step up and pay maintenance.”

Since 1998, the upkeep of the Mount Hope Bridge has been paid by Newport Pell Bridge tolls. Yet, to close a looming $62 million shortfall in capital improvements, RITBA is considering a Mount Hope Bridge toll. Currently, the entire $2.4 million annual expense to keep up the Mount Hope Bridge comes from tolls collected on the Newport Bridge and from bonds.

Without any changes, expenses include $200 million for mainte- nance and upkeep of the Newport Bridge and another $49.7 million for infrastructure and roadway repairs for the Mount Hope Bridge, according to David Darlington, chairman of the board of the state Turnpike and Bridge Authority.

To close the funding gap, the cost of the Newport Bridge tolls could increase or RITBA could start tolling on the Mount Hope Bridge.

“Let’s close the Mount Hope Bridge for a week and see what happens to the state in the alternative. Let’s close the Newport Pell Bridge for a week and see what happens to the state. Let’s close the RIDOT bridges for a week and see what happens to the state. And then come back and say we need shared sacrifice,” Anthony Deluca said, rousing applause from the crowded library conference room. “I would rather we have shared sacrifice in this country rather than us go bomb other countries and rebuild their infrastructure.”

It would not be the first time a toll was put in place on the Mount Hope Bridge. In 1929, Mount Hope Bridge was first built as a private toll bridge. In 1955, the state acquired ownership; RITBA took over ownership of the bridge nine years later. Tolling ended in May 1998. For the 38 years from 1964 to 1998, tolls were 30 cents for passenger cars and 10 cents for token users.

In 1998, tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge were discontinued because the 10-cent token and 30- cent passenger car charge didn’t generate enough revenue to pay the collection cost.

If the Mount Hope Bridge was to have tolls, consultants said the rates necessary to cover the bridge costs would be 52 cents for resident E-ZPass and $2.50 for nonresident E-ZPass. For fiscal year 2013, the expected toll revenue would be $4 million. The annual cost of toll collection is $1.3 million.

Current tolls for the Pell Bridge is $4 for cars, 83 cents for resident cars, and $2 for trucks per axle. For fiscal year 2013, the toll revenue is expected to be $18.1 million.

Another option would be to have all-electronic tolling on the bridge, Darlington said. This requires no tollbooths and only the overhead gantry. Non-E-ZPass customers would be identified by license plate and sent an invoice. It would cost $3.25 for video license plate toll in fiscal year 2013. To build all-electronic tolling on the Mount Hope Bridge, the capital cost to build would be $2.3 million.

According to a feasibility study by RITBA, in fiscal year 2013 there would be 12,000 average crossings per day on the Mount Hope Bridge if a toll were put in place. The average cost collected would be 90 cents, resulting in $4.6 million in annual revenue.

After years of motorists crossing the Mount Hope Bridge without having to contribute to the costs of maintenance, islanders have become frustrated and just want a solution.

“If you take three individuals working in Newport – one from Jamestown, one from Tiverton and another from Bristol – why is it costing the Jamestown man $10,000 more?” Kevin Bourne asked. “I’m sick of paying for other people. It’s time someone else takes care of me.”

Resident Kevin Carti pointed out that no matter what RITBA chooses to do, they will get opposition from some place in the state, whether it is from people in Jamestown and Newport, or people in the West Bay area living in Tiverton or Compton.

“It needs to come from everyone,” Carti said. “It’s a local bridge so they do need to have a shared sacrifice. I don’t think anyone is ready to occupy the bridge yet.”

Arlene Petit, the executive director of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, said that not tolling the Mount Hope Bridge is simply an unfair charge against small businesses. She said that businesses pay $2 per axel for a truck to cross the Newport Bridge.

“What a heck of a burden that is on business. We need less of a burden on users of the Newport Pell Bridge,” Petit said.

Small business owner Jack Britaine said over the course of one year he pays $3,000 to cross his trucks over the bridge.

“I’m all for having a toll on the Mount Hope Bridge,” Britaine said.

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