Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) will not be increasing tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge on July 1. In February, the board had voted to raise revenue needed to fund bridge maintenance by moderately increasing the cash and E-ZPass rates unless a separate new toll was approved by state lawmakers.
On June 8 and 11, the R.I. House and R.I. Senate, respectively, passed the FY13 budget; and today, the Governor signed it. Contained within is the institution of tolling on the newly rebuilt Sakonnet River Bridge. Ownership of the Sakonnet Bridge will be transferred from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to RITBA, who will manage the tolling, maintenance and operations. The Jamestown Bridge will also become RITBA’s property and will remain toll-free.
“As a result of the budget being signed into law today, RITBA will hold the price of the toll to current rates,” said David A. Darlington, chairman. “We made that promise in our February vote, which was taken after a months-long period of public scrutiny of our financial and long-range bridge maintenance plans. We thank Governor Chafee, the leaders of the General Assembly, and the membership for entrusting the maintenance of the four bridges – all vital transportation structures – to the care and keeping of RITBA. We pledge to continue RITBA’s tradition of excellent maintenance to ensure that the bridges are safe.”
Darlington stated that the toll collection system on the Sakonnet River Bridge will be similar to the new open road tolling (ORT) system about to make its debut on the Newport Pell Bridge. Later this month, drivers with E-ZPass transponders can use the new E-ZPass-only lanes and drive through the toll plaza without stopping. For the Sakonnet River Bridge, an all-electronic toll collection system is being contemplated. Cameras mounted on the toll plaza will take photos of license plates, and motorists who today pay by cash would instead receive invoices in the mail for their outstanding tolls.
“Open road tolling on the Newport Pell Bridge will help reduce waiting times in the cash lanes and is faster and more convenient overall,” said Darlington. “Through a public-private partnership, RITBA is providing an improved toll collection system as requested by the public.”
RITBA does not receive state or federal monies. All maintenance on the Newport Pell and Mount Hope Bridges is funded by toll revenue. After two years of public discussion and formal study, the board voted on September 8, 2009 to increase tolls for the first time in the 43-year history of the Newport Pell Bridge.
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority was created in 1954 by the Rhode Island General Assembly as a body corporate and politic, with powers to construct, acquire, maintain and operate bridge projects as defined by law. The Authority has no stockholders or equity holders. It is directed by a five member board of directors, all of whom are appointed by the governor.