Rhode Island Bridge has new open road toll lanes at Newport Pell toll plaza
By Peter Samuel
2012-06-25: After several days operation a pair of open road toll (ORT) lanes are doing well at the toll plaza of the Newport Pell toll bridge, says the Rhode Island Turnpike & Bridge Authority's (RITBA) chairman David Darlington. Previously a conventional toll plaza with six mixed toll lanes in each direction it has been given a highway speed electronic toll (E-ZPass) or 'open road toll' lane in each direction in the center leaving four mixed cash/electronic lanes each direction on the outsides.
Open road tolling began June 22.
Already the two highway speed (posted for 40mph) open road toll lanes are handling more traffic than the eight mixed toll lanes - they are getting 60 percent of total traffic.
Darlington says local motorists wanted open road tolling and the toll authority is "pleased to deliver this modern convenience."
The greater speed and throughput will bring benefits to users of the open road lanes, obviously, but also to those who continue to use cash lanes.
So far the 'violation rate' is only 1.8 percent. That's non-reads of a transponder either because one isn't reading, or because there's no transponder to read.
For now they're charging a $10 late payment fee first up, $10 required to be paid within 14 days. After that unpaid tolls go to a $75 penalty.
This is an extension of their policy going back to gates and cash when a motorist didn't have the cash to pay the toll. They'd be let through the gate once they'd given their name and address and taken a numbered late payment slip.
P3 for receivables gets them the new ORT system
RITBA has what they're calling a public private partnership arrangement with a receivables specialist VION Municipal Capital (VMC) headquartered in Atlanta GA but owned by a New York private equity group.
VMC advanced the $4.5m needed for the new open road toll system in return for the right to RITBA's net violations revenue.
The details of the charges are not yet fully negotiated with VMC, but it will ensure RITBA has no net loss through going open road.
The low 1.8% violation rate so far may change, Darlington is quick to say, as what happens in the first few days doesn't mean much. 3%, he says, seems to be the industry norm.
70% of RITBA's clientele are 'commuters,' regulars making the trip over the Pell bridge almost daily. Over 80% of transactions are E-ZPass.
Had they considered going directly to all-electronic, rather than adding open road to cash?
"No we have a very firm culture here of making changes in steps," Darlington said.
"When we went to E-ZPass we initially kept gates, so in a separate step we could do camera enforcement. We like to master one challenge at a time."
E-ZPass only took over from tokens in coin machines in 2009.
Darlington says the open road toll lanes at Newport Pell plaza "will allow us to master violation enforcement and out-of-state collection" on a limited scale, before moving to all-electronic.
Any new toll points will be all-electronic, he said.
And that's not far off.
Sakonnet Bridge to toll
The Rhode Island legislature recently granted RITBA authority to toll Sakonnet Bridge the approach to Aquidneck Island on the northeast - the Newport Pell Bridge is the southwestern approach, and the route for people from New York and Connecticut getting to the island.
The Sakonnet toll point being built from nothing is likely to be all-electronic. Tolls could start there some time next year.
It would be one of the first all-electronic toll points in the northeast.
Jacobs have done recent traffic and revenue work for RITBA and the systems for open road tolling were by CS.
Traffic on the Newport Pell Bridge peaked in 2005 and has declined since then. Jacobs have provided two forecasts, one which has slight annual growth to recover the 2005 traffic levels by 2022, another no growth scenario with 22 years of a flat traffic trend.
Any extra revenue has to come from economies of operations, new toll points or improved service and higher tolls.
We're hoping to find that RI Turnpike in the toller's title. Darlington quips they do now have a Tunnel that could make them the Rhode Island Tunnel and Bridge Authority, the Tunnel being a glorified culvert for staff to cross safely under the new open road toll lanes - and funded for them by Vion Muncipal.
In a dig at the Mass Pike he calls the new tunnel the Little Dig.
BACKGROUND: Newport Pell Bridge spans the East Passage of Narraganset Bay providing direct access to Newport the major settlement on Aquidneck Island Island from the mainland to the east on RI138 via Jamestown on a smaller Conanicut Island. A suspension bridge with a formidable 1600ft, 490m mainspan, the longest in New England it has an overall length of 11,248ft, 3.43km.
Aircraft carriers USS Saratoga and Forrestal based at the island's Newport Naval Station need to be able to get under the bridge.
It has a tight 4 lane deck of just 48ft, 15m and a posted speed limit of 40mph. It opened in 1969.
Originally titled simply the Newport Bridge it had the name of longtime Rhode Island US senator Claiborne Pell added to it in 1992. Locals still call it simply the Newport Bridge.