Rhode Island bill would ban tolls on Mount Hope Bridge

| 2/1/2008

Concern about what the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority will do to close a long-term funding gap has one state lawmaker looking to ensure that Mount Hope Bridge isn’t pegged for tolls.

The state’s Turnpike and Bridge Authority has scheduled a series of public hearings on trimming a $233-million deficit projected by 2030. Those discussions caused Rep. Raymond Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, to introduce a bill that would prohibit charging tolls on the state Route 114 bridge that connects Portsmouth and Bristol. The 78-year-old Mount Hope Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and carries approximately 15,000 vehicles per day.

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.

“At this time, when gas prices are increasing to record levels, Rhode Island’s motoring public can’t support any other increases in the cost of daily transportation,” Gallison said in a written statement.

One alternative offered by Gallison to charging people to use the Mount Hope Bridge is to raise existing tolls on the Pell Bridge for out-of-state vehicles only, The Providence Journal reported.

Gallison’s bill – HB7070 – is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the House Finance Committee.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor