ProJo reports that the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is proposing raising tolls on the Newport-Pell Bridge and reinstituting tolls on the Mt. Hope Bridge (tolls were removed from the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1998).
The toll to cross the Newport span would increase from $2 to $4 for those paying cash. For those with E-ZPass transponders from out of state, the toll would go up even more, from $1.75 to $4. Tolls for commercial vehicles would increase $1 per axle.
In-state E-ZPass users would continue to pay 83¢ per crossing and out of state E-ZPass commuters ho use the bridge at least 30 times per month will continue to be charged 91¢.
The Authority says it needs the toll increases to help maintain the bridges in the future and prevent a $223 million budget shortfall from materializing over the next 20 years.
While we are not opposed to tolls, we think the toll stick needs to be accompanied by a carrot. See: Tolls: A stick with no carrot. Only so many cars can possibly fit on Aquidneck Island. Ensuring we have robust transit options; bus, boat, rail to the island can be that carrot. It should be possible for island visitors and workers to leave their cars in Kingston or Fall River for example and be shuttled onto the island.
RIPTA Route 14, which runs between T.F. Green and Newport, does offer park n’ ride facilities at Routes 138 & 1A just at the mainland side of the Jamestown Bridge, and at First Ave. and Post Road in East Greenwich. However there are some issues. One, marketing, do people even know this option exists? Two, schedule, it has a healthy number of scheduled buses at rush hour, but overall it only makes 17 trips per weekday (and only 6 on Saturday, and none on holidays and Sundays, total FAIL for tourists). Three, marketing, yes marketing is one, but it can’t be stated enough. If the Newport Visitors bureau would push options that had visitors leaving their cars on the mainland, people might actually do it.
It is no secret that the state is in a budget black hole. If the Turnpike and Bridge Authority needs tolls to keep it out of the budget abyss, then I say jack the tolls. But let’s gets some carrots to reduce congestion on the island, reduce pressure on the bridges, and reduce green house gas emissions.
The toll on the Newport Bridge has been the same since it opened in 1969. If the toll had been adjusted for inflation, the current toll should be slightly less than $12 in one direction today. The New York/New Jersey bridge and tunnel tolls are periodically raised to help pay for maintenance and contribute to mass transit. The current toll to cross the Hudson is $8 collected only in the inbound direction, which would be equal to a proposed $4 toll on the Newport Bridge.
There is no question that improved transit options should be addressed. If there were train service available people from Fall River and Aquidneck Island would take it. An express bus from West Kingston would serve Amtrak riders and URI students, but would not necessarily entice the New Yorkers that typically drive. It’s good to advocate for Transit improvements, but those improvements should not be a condition for increasing tolls.
Rhode Island has a longstanding heritage of permanent deferred maintenance, which has proven to be extremely expensive to remedy. The former newer span of Providence’s Washington Bridge is a sorry example where a 30 year old span had to be replaced because it was never maintained or even the old Jamestown Bridge. Now that RITBA is planning for the future we should do everything to support them and leave the carrots for another discussion.