Editorial: Toll fight not over but this moment is sweet

Twice now these towns have shown that what they lack in size and numbers they more than make up for in tenacity.

First it was an energy giant and its pals at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who attempted to transform Mount Hope Bay into their own private LNG terminal. The locals packed hearings, filed lawsuits and wore Hess out in a years-long delaying effort.

And this week it was a governor and legislature leaders, with help from a compliant Federal Highway Administration, who thought they’d found a slick way around statewide bridge maintenance deficits. Their path-of-least-resistance plan — get one small segment of the population to pay with outsized bridge tolls while the rest get a free ride.

Again the locals fought back. They packed hearings, wrote letters and, in the end, mounted an all-out phone and email barrage. Led by their home-town legislators, they managed a startling 11th hour toll delay.

The fight is scarcely done. A delay does little good if, next February, those tolls go in after all. The arrangement would be as unfair as before and as devastating on state tourism and area businesses and families. No better is Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s knee-jerk — ‘Well then we’ll toll the Mount Hope Bridge instead’ — reaction.

These next seven months need to be spent demonstrating that the alternative funding plans put forth by the local legislative team can indeed work. And real economic impact and traffic studies — not the fictions put forth by DOT — need doing.

Paying for bridge maintenance statewide should rightly be the responsibility of all motorists, not just the easiest targets.

For the moment, though, congratulations to all who testified, signed petitions, rode the bus to Providence and peppered leadership with calls and emails.

And thanks to lawmakers from other towns who listened.

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