The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) on Thursday with the public about proposed tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge. The proposal, RITBA says, would close a $63 million budget shortfall created by capital improvement projects required over the next 10 years.
During the hearing at , Rick Gobeille from Jacobs Engineering Group (Jacobs), the consulting company retained by RITBA to conduct a feasibility study, presented the background of the problem.
In the 1960s, RITBA implemented a toll of 30 cents for passenger vehicles and 10 cents for commuters. This toll schedule was in place until May 1, 1998, when tolls were removed on the Mount Hope Bridge.
Gobeille said a primary factor in the removal of those tolls was because the low rate did not generate sufficient revenue to justify the toll collection costs.
Since this time, maintenance to the Mount Hope Bridge has been funded through the Newport Pell Bridge toll revenues.
“Over the next 10 years, there is a capital plan for the bridges,” said Gobeille. “For the Mount Hope Bridge, it’s about $50 million and for the Pell Bridge it’s about $200 million.” He said the projects are necessary to keep the bridges in good operating condition.
Despite the current toll revenue, bond sales and cash on-hand, there is about a $63 million shortfall to fund these projects, Gobielle said.
Gobeille said the two options to close the shortfall are to either increase the tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge or to implement tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge.
Gobeille stated that the study found that 70 percent of respondents make round trips across the Mount Hope Bridge four or more times per week, which indicates it’s of high use to residents. He said more than 90 percent of respondents make trips once per week, and no survey respondents reported occasional use.
Jacobs Engineering estimates the capital cost for the construction for an all-electronic tolling system on the Mount Hope Bridge would be approximately $3.3 million.
Gobeille said that an alternative to a toll on the Mount Hope Bridge would be to increase the Newport Pell Bridge tolls by 17 percent.
RITBA Chairman David Darlington explained that if it is determined a toll increase is the best option, they would draft a piece of legislation and present to the General Assembly for approval. When the authority was established, they were not permitted by law to increase the tolls.
Thursday's meeting was the second this week on the issue. The in Bristol.
later this month: one in Jamestown and another in Newport.