Rhode Island removes weight limit over Pocasset, proposes tolls on Sakonnet

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 4/23/2013

Truckers can once again use the Pocasset River Bridge on Rhode Island Route 2 now that the state DOT has removed a vehicle weight limit. In separate bridge news for The Ocean State, officials have proposed converting the Sakonnet Bridge that connects Portsmouth and Tiverton into a tolled facility.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is halfway through a two-phase rehabilitation project for the Pocasset River Bridge on Route 2, a busy local route that runs parallel to Interstate 95 in Cranston southwest of downtown Providence.

The first phase reduced four lanes to two and restricted vehicle weight as RIDOT constructed a pair of new lanes next to the existing structure.

The DOT completed the first phase on Monday, April 22, shifting traffic to the two brand-new lanes and nixing the weight restriction.

“Trucks can now pass freely,” RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin told Land Line. “There’s still a restriction there as far as the number of lanes go, but there’s no longer a weight restriction.”

St. Martin said the second phase of the project involves rehabbing two of the old lanes and demolishing the other two old lanes. The estimated $2.9 million project should be completed this fall, he said.

About 20 miles to the southeast, officials with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority have filed a federal application to convert the Sakonnet River Bridge into a tolled facility. The bridge carries Rhode Island Route 24 between Portsmouth and Tiverton.

A recent state law authorized the transfer of the newly rebuilt Sakonnet River Bridge as well as the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge from the state DOT to the turnpike and bridge authority. The transfer doubles the number of bridges maintained by the authority from two to four. The agency also handles operation and maintenance of the Mount Hope Bridge and the tolled Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge. Both of those bridges carry Rhode Island Route 138 in the southeast part of the state.

A financial plan unveiled by the turnpike and bridge authority on April 2 calls for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge to maintain the expanded bridge roster and launch 10 more years of capital improvements.

The state DOT just completed the replacement of the Sakonnet River Bridge, alleviating a weight limit of 18 tons that lasted several years.

The state DOT and turnpike agency recently applied to the Federal Highway Administration to re-evaluate the environmental impact statement to include tolls. The FHWA must sign off on the idea before the Sakonnet can be converted.

“The initial (environmental impact statement) did not include tolling, but now the evaluation includes tolling as a means to maintain the bridge,” St. Martin said. “That is still pending review by Federal Highways.”

According to a proposed toll schedule unveiled by the agency, trucks would pay $2 per axle without E-ZPass or $1.88 per axle with E-ZPass.

Cash would not be an option at the collection site, according to the agency. A vehicle without E-ZPass would be photographed at the collection site and receive an invoice in the mail.

According to the proposal, the cost of constructing an all-electronic tolling facility with cameras and E-ZPass technology is estimated at $2.3 million.

Under the plan, tolls on the Sakonnet would increase at the rate of inflation, or about 2.5 percent, each year starting in 2016.

The plan also calls for a series of inflationary toll increases on the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge starting in 2020.

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