The Lesser Evil Principle on Tolls: What's Best for Newport?

In political science, the lesser evil principle is that of two bad choices, one is not as bad as the other, and should therefore be chosen.

Tolls might come to the Sakonnet River Bridge. It’s the proposal Newport County loves to hate.

Petitions are inside dozens of local businesses, residents have organized protests and Patch readers have engaged in, ahem, spirited debates. 

Nobody likes tolls. Nobody likes getting a cold either.  

But for Newport, 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 Newport? Leave your comments below.  If you are not from Newport, you are welcome to comment, but please specify your town.

Comments must be on-topic, free from profanity and personal attacks against other readers.   Keep in mind that according to Socrates, “when the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”


Jack October 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Mike these people don't vote in Newport and we have been paying for years, why not get a fair toll of 40 or 50 cents for all Newport County residents and leave the rest of the toll schedule as is......time for Portsmouth and Tiverton to pay for what they use......and for those who come from Mass to get a paycheck, too bad either go around, get a comuter rate pass or move to RI
5th Warder October 24, 2012 at 10:39 AM
I live and work in Newport, and I have plenty of coworkers who come from Jamestown and points west. I personally don't remember any of them saying they were being crushed by the "unfair burden" of paying a bridge toll. If I need to go off island, I suck it up, pay the $0.83, and go. It would be great if all the bridges were free, but life doesn't work that way. At least with RITBA I know where the money goes and that it's being spent on bridges, not lining some fat cat legislators pockets in Providence. I think the bigger issue here is government accountability. I trust RITBA more than I trust Smith Hill. Which ain't saying much.
Albert Cabestany October 24, 2012 at 12:26 PM
If people can prove they live or work on Aquidneck island, they should be allowed to buy a transponder and pay only 83 cents.
Kevin Carty October 24, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Commute to No Dartmouth three times a week from Jamestown plus socialize a bit in Newport. I am NOT rich and am semi-retired. The state does not have any responsibility for any of the bridges in question so tax write-offs, gasoline tax increases (we are already .10 higher than Mass), etc would take special legislation. The easiest and cleanest way to maintain all the bridges is to toll the Sakonnet. Bristol, Tiverton, Portsmouth, etc residents are now net recipients of the largess from we who pay our tolls. Tom is correct. Stop blaming the state, legislators, global warming and every other attention diverter and put the .83 in your budget.
Ralph Doliber October 25, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Dangerously Deficient Bridges by State Number of dangerously deficient bridges Average daily traffic on deficient bridges 1. Pennsylvania 5,906 22,773,880 Bill Shuster – Transportation & Infrastructure 2. Oklahoma 5,212 7,459,023 James Lankford - Trans/Infrastructure 3. Iowa 5,371 2,324,224 Tom Latham - Appropriations 4. Rhode Island 163 3,000,502 Ranked by percentage of bridges in state that have been judged deficient. With 50th being the best and 1st the worst for dangerously deficient bridges in the USA, good old Rhode Island comes in FOURTH! One Hundred and Sixty Three (163) DANGEROUSLY DEFICIENT bridges in Rhode Island!! You don't hear much (if anything) about THAT scary fact, do ya? So, how about a TOLL on EVERY one of those dangerously deficient bridges to make them SAFE again? The people who USE them should pay, right? Shoot, with the logic I see here EVERY bridge in RI should have a TOLL so WE can ALL shoulder the COST, no? Fair is Fair is Fair!


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