Rhode Island bills address toll bridges, revenue

| 3/6/2008

Two bills in the Rhode Island House would change toll policies on the Mount Hope and Pell bridges.

Concern about what the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority will pursue to close a long-term funding gap led to a bill being introduced that is intended to ensure that the 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 led Rep. Raymond Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, to offer a bill – HB7070 – that would prohibit charging tolls on the state Route 114 bridge over Narragansett Bay 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 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.

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.

The bill – HB7197 – would require the toll revenue be used only for maintenance of that bridge.

Both bills are awaiting further consideration 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