Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Celebrating the big win on the bridge

While the Sox fan in me is a bit sickened by every loss — and this month there seem to be plenty of them — I am determined not to let the afterglow of the huge 2013 win fade anytime soon. This year I have to remind myself to enjoy the game, get excited about some of the new talent and not fret about the standings right now. In some ways this is also a great way to think about the outcome with the Sakonnet River Bridge toll — we need to be happy about the win before we reflect on what almost went wrong and what’s next.

Make no mistake about it — the bridge win was critical. There will be no toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge, easing fear and uncertainty that business owners and residents had been dealing with for several years. Even in some of the earliest information sessions with DOT Director Michael Lewis, it was clear that putting a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge was going to hurt local businesses, drive away tourism and saddle local residents with what should be a shared burden: bridge and road maintenance. The sudden shift in power after the resignation of Speaker Fox gave several East Bay legislators (Edwards, Gallison, and Marshall) a stronger voice in the House and they fought to reverse the toll decision. Most importantly, the fix is not short term: the General Assembly leaders hammered out a plan that will create a fund for maintaining bridges and roads moving forward, very smartly providing a long-term solution to an ongoing problem.

The issue has been a contentious one for all involved. Even Governor Chafee felt the heat, noting at a recent event that he may not march in the Bristol 4th of July parade this year because he “didn’t have fun” in 2013 when he was booed over the bridge toll. We can’t promise a warm welcome this year, but he won’t be able to blame bridge-related anger for the heckling he’ll receive

Just as I’d rather not think about whether there will be October baseball, I can’t help but think a bit about the bridge toll as a near calamity that should have never happened. At times RIBTA has seemed like a runaway train — purchasing and installing millions of dollars in tolling equipment while the issue was very clearly up for debate and threatening to increase the toll on the Pell bridge if things didn’t go as they wanted. It makes me wonder why RIBTA has so much power. Who has eyes on RIBTA and why do we need a somewhat independent agency that oversees just four bridges when the Department of Transportation manages every other bridge and stretch of state-owned road? And by the way, who decided that those hideous lights on the Sakonnet River Bridge were attractive or money well spent? During the bridge debate this year, some legislators favored eliminating RIBTA and rolling its duties into DOT — should this be the next step in streamlining state government and making sure that our money is not wasted? These questions should be asked and answered to ensure that this “near miss” turns into “never again.”

The Sox are on track to finish near the bottom of the AL East, but I just can’t worry about it. They are World Series Champions and I’ve got tickets to a game this week. More importantly, there’s a new stripe down the middle of Hope Street and I’m planning to follow it out of town and over to Foglands for a day at the beach — toll-free.

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