Editorial: Toll triumph

First it was a liquefied natural gas terminal in Mount Hope Bay featuring monster tankers with a few feet of clearance beneath the Mount Hope Bridge and a vast exclusion zone into which boats must not veer.

Then it was a Sakonnet River Bridge toll (and, originally, a potential Mt. Hope Bridge toll) — $10-plus per round trip for visitors, a bit less for locals.

Both awful ideas were backed by powerful forces: LNG by Hess and its friends at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; tolls by a governor and his Department of Transportation.

And against the longest of odds, these communities fought back. Townspeople and their representatives packed meetings, wrote letters, rode buses to the State House.

They dogged Hess and associates with a years-long barrage of bills, protests and filings. An exasperated Hess eventually threw in the towel.

It went much the same with tolls. Hundreds packed hearings in Bristol, Portsmouth and Tiverton. Tolls would ruin fragile businesses, people argued. They’d divide families and block tourists from the state’s best attractions. And they were unfair — requiring one corner of the state to pay for upkeep of all state bridges. But the governor and associates weren’t listening.

You have a better idea? they asked.

Turns out people here did. It involves temporary (they say) motor vehicle fee hikes, a few pennies more on the gas tax — not popular things but the right way to go since everyone should share the burden of keeping bridges upright.

All who attended the early hearings had reason to doubt that tolls could ever be overcome. Eloquence and numbers seemed no match for a governor and staff whose heels were dug in.

But now Gov. Chafee says he will sign this budget, Sakonnet toll elimination and all.

Credit the small East Bay delegation, led on the Senate side by Louis DiPalma, on the House side by Ray Gallison and Jay Edwards, for turning the tide. Their creative, persuasive and persistent work changed minds and led the way. Backing them were all who phoned, wrote, emailed, spoke at hearings, carried Flo’s placards at the bridge dedication and dressed up in chicken suits at the State House.

Killing this toll was good for the obvious economic and fairness reasons. It was better for what it revealed about our system.

Once in awhile —a decade ago with LNG, now with tolls — determined people can overcome the most formidable of beauracracies.

Congratulations — this new bridge looks better than ever.

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5 Comments

  1. tubby barton said:

    You mean the misfit baggers running around Tiverton claiming credit for this aren’t really telling us the truth (again)?

  2. Tony Ruben said:

    You don’t honestly believe the motor vehicle fee increase is temporary, do you? I go over that bridge less than once per year, why should I have to pay an extra 30 bucks every 2 years to register my cars now?

    • DownTown said:

      Tony the costs that have been thrown onto us are for the Jamestown bridge not the Sakonnet.

      The Sakonnet won’t incur any maintenance costs for a decade at the earliest. The Jamestown was the target of the revenue the whole time. It has already incurred major maintenance costs and as it gets older will become more and more expensive to maintain. Its a much larger bridge than the Sakonnet.

      The Jamestown, which was built with $180 million dollars that was earmarked to upgrade the system of East Bay roads and misdirected to Jamestown, has never generated a single penny in income for its maintenance.

      The DOT has always had some money budgeted for Sakonnet maintenance whether it was spent for that or not is another story but point being that money is going to be spent somewhere else now on purpose.

      It would be great if they instituted a toll on the Mt Hope maybe $2 each way. Imagine the lessened traffic Bristol would see. Our roads really can’t handle the traffic we get now. Of course had that $180 million been spent the way it was supposed to be that wouldn’t be the case.

      Lets remember that the expensive bridges we build are the only way to allow for shipping to Providence, Quonset, Fall River etc.
      These bridges could be built for much less if allowing shipping wasn’t a factor at all and land transportation was the only consideration. I’m not sure allowing shipping or sailing under the roadway of 24 was worth $167 million in construction costs. Here’s a picture of the old Stone Bridge http://bit.ly/1w04qpx Do you think it would cost $167 million or anywhere near that to replicate that design?

    • DownTown said:

      Also Tony Pawtucket schools receive $72 million a YEAR in State aid which comes from East Bay pockets because we actually pay more in taxes than we suck up from the State. That’s almost a NEW Sakonnet bridge every two years.

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