Tolls might come to the Sakonnet River Bridge. It’s the proposal Newport County loves to hate.
Petitions are inside dozens of Middletown businesses, residents have organized protests and Patch readers have engaged in, ahem, spirited debates. The Middletown Town Council even passed a resolution in opposition to the proposal.
Nobody likes tolls. Nobody likes getting a cold either.
But for Middletown, one could argue tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge could be the lesser of two evils. Here is why.
A quasi-public agency, called the Rhode Island Bridge and Transportation Authority (RIBTA), has been responsible for the Pell Bridge, previously known as the Newport Bridge, as well as the Mt. Hope Bridge, which carries drivers into Bristol, since the 1960s. Its five-member board is appointed by the governor. It does not receive state or local tax revenue.
RIBTA constructed the Pell Bridge and has maintained the two bridges for the past 50 years with bond obligations that are paid for by tolls. Today there are only tolls on the Pell Bridge.
The cost of maintenance has grown to the point that the existing toll rate will not be able to cover the debt obligations for the two bridges in the long term.
Last fall, RIBTA explored the idea of tolls on the Mt. Hope Bridge to offset the rising costs. After several public hearings, RIBTA announced that, come July, they would be forced to increase the tolls on the Pell Bridge instead.
That never happened.
In June, as part of the state budget packet, RIBTA gained jurisdiction over two more bridges - the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Bridge. With two additional bridges in its portfolio, the proposal is now to install tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
RIBTA officials say this scenario can help offset the burden that has historically been placed on the Pell Bridge, which would postpone a toll increase in Newport for some time.
Shortly after the budget passed, RIBTA formally announced Pell Bridge tolls would not increase.
Rep. Daniel Reilly, who has been a vocal opponent of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, urges RIBTA to find another way to avoid toll increases. Some might argue however, that the north-end of the island should pay their fair share.
What do you think? If tolls on the River Bridge will help avoid toll increases in Newport, is it the better option for Middletown? Leave your comments below. If you are not from Middletown, you are welcome to comment, but please specify your town.
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