Rhode Island bills to address toll bridges, revenue die

| 4/28/2008

Two bills in the Rhode Island House that have died sought to change toll policies on the Mount Hope and Claiborne Pell bridges. They remained in committee at a deadline to advance, effectively killing them for the year.

Concern about what the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority will do to close a long-term funding gap led to a bill being introduced that was intended to ensure that the Mount Hope Bridge isn’t pegged for tolls.

Officials with the state’s Turnpike and Bridge Authority have said they need to trim a $233-million deficit projected by 2030. Those discussions led Rep. Raymond Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, to offer HB7070, which would have prohibited charging tolls on the state Route 114 bridge that connects Portsmouth and Bristol.

The 78-year-old bridge carries about 15,000 vehicles daily.

A consultant hired by the authority to offer suggestions to help close the deficit has proposed charging truckers and other drivers $1 to cross Narragansett Bay. The proposal also calls for increasing tolls on the nearby Pell Bridge.

The authority removed tolls from the Mount Hope Bridge in 1997 after it determined that tolls collected on the Pell Bridge would provide sufficient revenue to maintain both bridges. Gallison also is recommending an audit be conducted to investigate what has happened in the decade since then to change the authority’s financial outlook.

Rep. Bruce Long, R-Jamestown, introduced another bill in an attempt to appease users of the Pell Bridge, which connects Jamestown to Newport. Most bridge users don’t like footing the bill for upkeep to the Mount Hope Bridge.

Long’s bill – HB7197 – would have required the toll revenue to be used only for maintenance of that bridge.

Both efforts can be brought back for consideration during the 2009 regular session.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Rhode Island in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor