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Tolling Equipment Gone, RITBA Board Weighs Options for Overhead Gantry

RITBA spokeswoman said the board is considering the reuse, sale or demolition of the gantry and building or a "combination of those three."

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
The overhead gantry that looms over the Sakonnet River Bridge has been stripped bare of its cameras, computer equipment, antennas and hasn't been recording traffic since June when state lawmakers passed next year's state spending plan.

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is now about to decide on what to do with the gantry, which might be reused to carry LED signs similar to those installed throughout the state by the state Department of Transportation to warn drivers of crashes, delays and weather conditions in real-time.

The gantry, along with the concrete building to the side of the bridge that is currently housing equipment, could also be torn down, depending on what the RITBA board ultimately decides.

"The board needs to decide the best second life for those structures," said Beth Bailey, spokeswoman for the turnpike authority.

Bailey said the board is considering the reuse, sale or demolition of the gantry and building or a "combination of those three."

But, "demolition or trashing the equipment is the last option," she said.

The board has heard testimony from a number of residents who are calling for the authority to tear dismantle the gantry, for fear of tolls coming back.

"They can turn it on as quickly as they turned it off," John Vitkevich of Portsmouth, a leader in the toll fight, told the Fall River Herald News.

Meanwhile, the town of Portsmouth has sued officials from the state DOT, Federal Highway Administration and RITBA seeking for recoupment of the town's legal fees and to refund motorists. The town is asking for $70,000 in legal fees and $86,000 for the expense of consulting with transportation experts in addition to "restitution of all tolls illegally charged and collected from motorists crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge," according to the federal court motion filed in U.S. District Court.

The motion depends on whether the court approves an earlier motion for summary judgment from the town's April 2013 lawsuit that was filed in the wake of the tolls beginning on the bridge.

The town is hoping to ensure that there will be no resurrection of tolls in the future, and Town Solicitor Kevin P. Gavin said that's exactly what happened before. 

In 2003, Gavin told the Providence Journal, a decision was reached by the FHA to eliminate tolls from further consideration due in part to efforts by then-Governor Donald Carcieri. The town is arguing that the decision to implement tolls should have been made long before the bridge had opened in 2012.

RITBA officials have declined commenting on the lawsuit, but Bailey said "be assured that there will be no tolling there."

"There will be no reinstitution of tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge," she said.

The board is expected to take up the matter of the gantry and shed at its Aug. 6 meeting. 
Alicarn July 12, 2014 at 12:01 PM
The turnpike board needs to go also. What a colossal waste of money!

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