The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority’s move to fully automated toll collection this week is welcome and long overdue. Starting Feb. 14, the bridge authority will launch a four-week trial run during which eastbound Pell/Newport Bridge motorists will only be able to pay via their vehicle’s transponder — no more cash, credit cards or toll collectors.
RITBA calls the transition “an extension of the existing cashless operations” that began last March.
It’s the way most toll roads and bridges work these days, and it’s a wonder that it took so long to reach the bridge authority. The old fashioned way, even in combination with E-ZPass lanes, is slow, expensive, unsafe and unnecessary.
The bridge authority has clung to its toll takers longer than most, even when common sense and technology suggested that it was time to move on.
Drivers with long memories here will recall that the authority resisted abandoning toll booths at the Mount Hope Bridge even after it was revealed that the process of collecting the money cost considerably more than those silly ten-cent (with tokens) tolls brought in.
And much more recently, toll collecting has remained a costly and complex endeavor for the authority. A look at its organizational chart (on its website) reveals that the toll plaza’s deputy director oversees an unspecified number of toll plaza supervisors, who oversee toll plaza collectors/supervisors, who oversee still more toll plaza collectors.
All of these wages and benefits cut into the bridge authority’s mission of maintaining four big, expensive bridges — the Mount Hope, Pell/Newport and, since 2013, the Sakonnet River and Jamestown/Verrazzano.
And when money is tight, talk of tolling more of those bridges sometimes follows. The Rhode Island DOT, which used to operate the Sakonnet River Bridge, actually installed cameras and sensors on that new bridge in a failed tolling attempt, a move that would have further isolated Tiverton and Little Compton from the rest of their state.
Keeping these bridges upright and safe is costly work that requires careful use of every dollar.
The authority has the automated tolling technology in place in Jamestown — it’s beyond time to put it to full use.