Toll testimony: Anyone listening?

Toll testimony: Anyone listening?


If there really is an ‘impact’ study, if the impact of what happens to families and struggling businesses counts for anything, and if anyone upstate is even listening, two long nights of Sakonnet River Bridge toll hearings spoke volumes.

Eight hundred — maybe more —  people turned out in Portsmouth and Tiverton last week to tell the powers-that-be what tolls will do to them and their communities.

These weren’t stories of mere nuisance. These were grandparents fearful that family visits must be limited or that they may have to change doctors. They were restaurant owners frightened that their already struggling businesses will be pushed over the brink if customers from Fall River and Westport stop coming. They were people worried that a Sakonnet community built on free and easy travel across a short bridge will be torn apart, that Tiverton and Little Compton will be cut adrift from their own county and state. And they were taxpayers who see no fairness in a system that would force the few to pay for a state bridge and highway system driven by all.

DOT Director Michael Lewis stood there and took it (Governor Chafee was a no-show). He said that the state certainly is considering such things although nothing in his presentation nor that of a consultant offered any evidence of it. Mr. Lewis spent the better part of an hour telling again about DOT’s fiscal mess and how the only option anyone can think of is this bridge toll. His consultant focused on debunking two arguments made by people here: Moving the toll booth inland to give locals a free ride is a bad idea, he concluded, and people are wrong when they say tolls on that bridge will further snarl traffic in Bristol and Warren.

At both hearings, people said they suspect the hearings are nothing but after-the-fact window dressing — that minds were made up back when this scheme was rammed through the legislature without a moment’s ‘impact study.’ They heard little to allay those fears —there was much from Mr. Lewis and his consultant about how toll revenue should be spent, how much to charge, where to put booths, but little about whether tolls ought to be charged in the first place (despite the fact that people here were promised early on in the bridge process that tolls had been ruled out as a revenue option).

If some study author actually intends to sift through the many hours of heartfelt testimony or check that 27,000-signature petition, there is plenty of ‘impact’ fodder to ponder. Or if that’s too burdensome, they might merely read Barbara Passmore’s letter on this page.

It is onto the backs of people like her that Gov. Chafee would balance his bridge budget.