The Tolls Will Rise
One thing that the great majority of voters can agree to be a legitimate government function is public infrastructure. If all residents can move about with equivalent ease, then they can compete economically and they can resist de facto segregation. Tolls and other usage fees actually serve to diminish this justification; as prices go up, the advantage of those with money increases, as well. Upkeep on such infrastructure should therefore be among the very first expenditures taken from general revenue.
From the perspective of government bureaucrats, the plain necessity of mobility makes tolls that much more attractive. If they spend all of their general revenue on things that voters wouldn’t support if asked, they can turn around and plea poverty in order to charge for necessities like infrastructure maintenance.
And as I’ve said, before, the tax-and-spenders have reason to love EasyPass, because it will make future increases almost invisible. At this point, though, they’re trying to clear a much more difficult hurdle: that of instituting a new toll:
The state Turnpike and Bridge Authority needs more revenue to maintain its bridges and will consider a toll increase, Chairman David A. Darlington said Friday.
But he also said that if the authority were to reinstitute tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge, it might be able to avoid a toll hike affecting Pell Bridge users.
As things stand now, to the annoyance of some Pell Bridge users, their tolls also pay for the maintenance of the Mount Hope Bridge, while Mount Hope Bridge users pay nothing.
See, it’s just a matter of fairness, the thinking goes. People who enter the southern (urban and more touristy) end of the Aquidneck Island pay a toll, and those who enter the northern (suburban) end of don’t pay anything (except taxes). So the new toll would just place the burden of a supposedly necessary increase on a group of heretofore freeloaders. With the wonders of technology, the new toll would hardly even be an inconvenience:
Darlington also said that a recent development in technology would make it easier to collect tolls on the Mount Hope Bridge. Called “open road tolling,” it refers to the collection of tolls without toll booths. Instead, an overhead “arbor” replaces the toll booths, and electronic devices scan transponders mounted on vehicles passing underneath. The owners are charged automatically.
And with two bridges onto the island generating revenue for the state, it would hardly be fair to allow users of the third bridge, which practically leads right into the pockets of non-residents to the north and east, to continue shirking their share of the responsibility for keeping up the infrastructure that serves the island.
Once three bridges are in the “open road tolling” loop, drivers will hardly notice when the price has to go up every year or so. Little by little, the bleeding can continue… without requiring government officials to address the real profligacy that is strangling the state.