January 9th, 2008

Legislator Wants to Sell Naming Rights to Bridge

By Ted Hayes
Warren Times Gazette

Call it the Dunkin’ Donuts Bridge, perhaps. Or the Hasbro Bridge. Maybe even the GTech span. Just don’t call it a toll bridge. Rep. Douglas Gablinske, who represents Warren and Bristol in the Rhode Island General Assembly, has come up with a novel way to avoid re-instituting tolls at the Mt. Hope Bridge: Sell naming rights.

On Tuesday, Rep. Gablinske said he will propose selling naming rights to the 79-year-old bridge as a way to prevent a revenue-generating plan by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to institute $1 tolls at the bridge. He plans to recommend the measure when the RITBA holds a public hearing on the matter in Bristol next Monday, Jan. 14.

“I don’t care if we call it the Mt. Hope Bridge, the GTech Bridge, the Dunkin’ Donuts Bridge,” he said. “What’s important is that tolls not be re-instituted. I think that we could raise significant money by naming the bridge after corporate sponsors.”

While it might seem like a novel idea, he said, there is plenty of precedent for such a move. The former Providence Civic Center is now called “The Dunk,” and the New England Patriots play at Gillette Stadium.

“Let corporate America fund it. We have paid more than our fair share” in tolls over the years, he said.

The authority wants to institute $1 tolls at the bridge starting in 2010, claiming tolls are necessary to help pay for some $350 million in repairs at the Mt. Hope and Claiborne Pell bridges over the next 20 years.

But Rep. Gablinske doesn’t buy the argument. While he agrees that the bridge needs to be maintained and doesn’t doubt the RITBA needs money, he doesn’t think the burden for funding future work should fall on the backs of East Bay residents, the bridge’s predominant users.

“In 1998 (when tolls ceased) we were presented with the scenario that tolls from the Claiborne Pell Bridge would fund the Mt. Hope Bridge,” he said. “We have more than paid our fair share for that bridge.:

Legislation proposed

His isn’t the only move afoot to forestall the re-institution of tolls at the bridge.

On Tuesday, State Representative Raymond Gallison Jr. of Bristol introduced legislation that, if passed, would forbid RITBA from bringing back tolls.

Like Rep. Gablinske, Rep. Gallison said the RITBA’s explanation of need doesn’t hold water.

“A few years ago they said they had plenty of money,” he said. “I don’t know why they need this.”

Rhode Island general laws give the RITBA the authority to govern the bridge and levy and collect tolls. The legislation would address that part of the law, he said.

“We could change it.”

Rep. Gallison said he will ask area representatives to co-sign his bill. And a similar bill could be submitted by the State Senate. Sen. Walter Felag of Warren thinks it’s a good idea.

“I would certainly support that,” he said.

Sen. Felag said that given the state of the economy and the rising price of gas, now is not the time to consider bringing tolls back to the Mt. Hope Bridge. Apart from financial considerations, he said, bringing back toll plazas would also exacerbate already bad traffic problems that often strike the bridge, especially during construction and maintenance work.

As for the financial side?

Sen. Felag is wary about that, too. RITBA documents predict that the Mt. Hope Bridge would generate $91 million in tolls over the next 20 years. However, he said, authority figures also show that maintenance work on the bridge during the same time period would cost much less.

“In effect we’d be subsidizing the Pell Bridge,” he said.

Meetings planned

Authority officials held the first in a series of public hearings Monday in Jamestown. Upcoming meetings are as follows:

Portsmouth

Town Hall council chambers, 2200 East Main Road; 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10.

Bristol

Burnside Building, corner of Hope and Court streets; 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14.

Middletown

Town Hall, 350 East Main Road; 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15. 

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