If you use an EZ Pass to cross the Mt. Hope Bridge, it could cost you 52 cents per trip soon. If you don't, it could cost you $3.25 per trip soon. Those are the options on the table, as revealed during a public hearing Wednesday night at restaurant in Bristol.
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority hosted a public forum to answer questions and hear from people upset by the idea of paying money to cross Narragansett Bay between Bristol and Portsmouth.
Turnpike and bridge authority board Chairman David Darlington reassured residents that the board "has not made a decision about retolling the Mt. Hope Bridge." However, he did admit that tolls, whether they are collected on the Mt. Hope Bridge or the Pell Bridge in Newport, are the authority's only sources of revenue to maintain the two bridges. And according to Darlington, they don't raise enough money from the Pell Bridge toll booths to maintain the two bridges for the next 10 years.
In the authority's proposal to bring tolls back to the Mt. Hope Bridge for the first time in years, "All Electronic Tolling" (AET) would be implemented, cutting out the need for toll booth workers. The toll system would rely entirely upon an elecontronic system like E-ZPass and cameras. According to Darlington, this would be a reasonable alternative to toll booths because it would not slow down traffic.
Rhode Island residents who hold an E-ZPass would pay a toll of 52 cents, and out-of-state residents who hold an E-ZPass would pay $2.50. Anyone traveling over the Mt. Hope Bridge who does not hold an EZ pass would be sent a bill for $3.25 after a camera snapped a shot of the vehicle's license plate.
Darlington said the toll system would cost about $2 million to set up, and then about $1.3 million per year to operate. They estimate the tolls would bring in about $4.6 million per year in revenue – enough to cover bridge maintenence expenses for that bridge.
At least 100 area residents showed up Wednesday to hear Darlington speak about the proposal and to voice their questions and concerns. Stay tuned to Patch this morning for a full report on their views.
A second public hearing will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at Portsmouth High School.