2016-03-31 / Around Town

Toll Upgrades Begin on Pell Bridge

By Tom Walsh

Motorists coming in and out of Newport over the Claiborne Pell Bridge experienced delays of 10 minutes or so on Monday morning, March 28, as work began on a $3.5 million project to modernize the span’s tolling apparatus.

“With a project such as this, the first few days are always the craziest,” said Eric Offenberg, director of engineering for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA), the agency that manages the Pell Bridge as well as the Jamestown-Verrazzano, Mount Hope and Sakonnet River bridges.

At the outset of the project, high speed “open tolling” lanes that normally do not require drivers to completely stop will be closed while improvements are put into place. Offenberg said the authority hopes to be finished with that work by about April 13, although that will depend partly on favorable weather conditions.

Other work that will replace concrete road beds near toll booths and gantries will take longer to complete, he said.

“We have to put people into a single lane to get to the toll plaza,” Offenberg said, explaining the cause of the delays. “But we will always have at least two lanes open in the gated sections.” Offenberg said some motorists were no doubt frustrated upon learning that their daily routines of nonstop travel to and from the Pell Bridge were being disrupted.

Offenberg said, though, that before work began he thought that tie-ups might be longer than they turned out to be. Traffic delays can be expected each work day during morning and evening commuting hours, he added.

The upgraded toll collection system being installed at the bridge includes new cameras, lasers, “multi-protocol” readers, antennas, updated software, wiring, servers and other digital devices. When in use, the new equipment is supposed to provide more accurate reads of E-ZPass transponders and license plate images.

“Some of the existing electronics are six to seven years old,” Offenberg said. “Other equipment is three or four years old. You’ve got to keep up with the new technology.”

He said RITBA purposely delayed the start of work until after St. Patrick’s Day to better accommodate those who enjoy coming to Newport for the annual parade and related events. “But we also wanted to ensure that this work is all completed before the start of the busy summer season,” he said.

According to a RITBA press release, “the authority’s new toll collection system will provide a more secure and efficient method for storing data, staging for future upgrades, and a more reliable system for disaster recovery in the event of a major incident or natural disaster.”

Offenberg said the $3.5 million cost of the project will be paid through tolls collected from motorists using the bridge.

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