To the editor:
No matter how attractive may seem the notion of allowing tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge, their imposition would wreak economic hardship on those who need to cross it frequently, and especially on businesses which rely on bridge traffic.
As a connector between two stretches of Route 24, the bridge is an integral and crucial part of an important interstate road. Spanning a waterway that is merely a let and not a river, it is in reality a highway section.
Just because a bit of roadway might serve as a money raiser for the agency that controls it, which faces ever-rising government operating costs — whether or not related to transit and maintenance — does not mean a toll should be imposed merely because a strip of pavement is in place.
Although Route 24, geographically and in practice is an interstate (though is not one technically), it is hardly a pass through. For many local area users it is the only viable way of getting back and forth in a heavy usage area, many needing to make as many as half a dozen transits across the bridge each day.
As an interstate in practice, one would expect that any plea for the Federal Highway Administration to allow tolls on a segment of it would have the well-reasoned backing of both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but nothing has come forth from the latter requesting tolls; one doubts it was even consulted on the matter.
As for Rhode Island, there is no evidence it sought Massachusetts’ concurrence on instituting tolls, nor is there any evidence it was forthcoming.
In fact, the Rhode Island General Assembly did not reach its toll-favoring decision on the basis of hearings and/or well presented argumentation. Instead, the Assembly seemingly jumped at tolls simply to reduce the overall cost of the project, including future maintenance. And in the process it decided to encompass future upkeep and incurred costs on a few other Rhode Island bridges by turning the whole issue over to the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority.
If my information is accurate, the Sakonnet River Bridge replacement funding came from Rhode Island General Obligation Bonds. Nowhere in Rhode Island law can I locate the authority for the state government’s shucking a public entrustment. Nor can I find authority for the state to turn one of its duly assumed functions over to an agency which at best is only quasi-public.
In sum, Rhode Island’s request is much less than adequately based. As such, the Federal Highway Administration should reject it.
Although many folks have forgotten or never knew the fact, the land taking for the new span already has destroyed an unplanned yet flourishing industrial and commercial district-like conglomeration of economic activity. Situated on both sides of Riverside Drive immediately north of Quaker Avenue’s terminus, the unexpected but welcome growth began in about the late 1970s and generated its own multiplier effect.
Perhaps the most notable enterprise in the latter years and at the end was a kayak manufacturer, promoter, and dealer whose activities brought added attention to the compact area. A few of the other firms also went defunct; two that survived relocated elsewhere in town.
But gone was the original boon to Tiverton’s tax rolls, which today would be in the high six figures. Never mind that the land taken really was not the optimal location for the new bridge’s east shoreside access to its footings, their perfect placement in the riverbed still occupied by the original span.
Tolls on the new bridge doubtless will cause economic hardship, and worse, to many businesses in Portsmouth, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, and other communities dependent on patronage from short-trip motorists. It will be amazing if Island Park in North Portsmouth remains remotely viable as a commercial area.
At the very least, the Federal Highway Administration needs to limit the price of the toll charged to those whose employment or business calls for frequent crossing and recrossing. That price probably should not exceed 50 cents.
But the best resolution would be a flat-out rejection of Rhode Island’s request.
Charles M. Moran Jr.