By Meg O’Neil
The community-interest group Alliance for a Livable Newport has announced that it will conduct monthly email and Facebook surveys to get feedback on what’s going on in the city, including several major projects that will affect residents of Aquidneck Island. Anyone, from any town, who accesses the group’s website or Facebook page online can respond to the surveys.
Approximately 90 people responded to the first survey, which contained three questions – about the proposed tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge, the Broadway improvement construction slated for 2013, and the wind turbine ordinance recently passed by the Newport City Council. Only the toll question requested a “Yes” or “No” response; the other two questions solicited comments only.
One of the biggest local issues of 2012 has been the prospect of Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. After the state Department of Transportation turned over responsibility for the Sakonnet River and Jamestown bridges to the state Turnpike & Bridge Authority, the Authority announced that in order to maintain Aquidneck Island’s four-bridge system (including the Pell and Mount Hope Bridges), it would have to either raise the toll on the Pell Bridge to $5 or add new tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
Public outcry from residents of Portsmouth, Tiverton, Bristol, and Little Compton led to a 20,000-signature petition against the tolls, and several public forums were held where many residents and business owners spoke out against the tolls.
According to the results of the Alliance survey, 39.5 percent of those who responded were in favor of the tolls, while 54.1 percent were opposed, and 6.2 percent had no response.
Another survey question pertained to plans for the reconstruction and redesign of lower Broadway. Recently presented at a Newport City Council workshop, the project would be done during the summer of 2013. The survey question read: “Will it be worth the turmoil in a major commercial district over the busy 2013 summer tourist season to keep within the project timetable? If the project is suspended over the summer months to permit greater access to businesses and ease traffic congestion, the project costs increase and therefore would not be completed until 2014.”
Answers from the several dozen people who responded were split fairly evenly.
Here are a few comments in favor of delaying the project:
–“The city should do everything it can to NOT interfere with businesses during the busy summer tourist season. It’s been hard enough in this economy for small, local businesses to prosper. Don’t make it any harder than necessary.”
–“Suspending road work for the summer would be worth the extra investment. Many businesses on Broadway are struggling, whether they are new and trying to get established or older and trying to stay afloat. They don’t’ need the additional pressure of losing an entire season of incomes and business, and neither does our tax revenue.”
–“Businesses on Broadway would suffer too greatly by having the street torn up for an entire summer. As with many projects in Newport, there hasn’t been sufficient impact planning. Take for instance, the new traffic lights at Bellevue and Memorial. At first blush it seemed like a good idea, but lack of impact planning has created a new nightmare.”
Others were in favor of continuing work on the project through the summer months:
–“I don’t think tourists have found this major commercial district. Rip off the band-aid, fix this area, and be done with it.”
–“I am in favor of the construction being completed in the shortest amount of time within the current budget. I feel the city and construction crews can minimize the disruption to local businesses with careful planning and communications. I look forward to a new, improved Broadway before I have to replace the shocks on my Jeep!”
–“Let them do [the work] as fast as they can. This is not a tourist area and the businesses will likely be kept open during construction. There are many ways to mitigate construction impacts.”
The third and final survey question was about the wind turbine ordinance passed by the Newport City Council earlier this month. The ordinance, which the Alliance calls “conservative,” bans turbines from most of Newport.
The survey question asks: “If your property qualified for a small residential turbine, would you want one? How about if the turbine was on your neighbor’s property? Should small residential turbines be banned from Newport’s Historic District properties?”
While some who responded favored making such decisions on a case-by-case basis, many others supported the ban on turbines in the Historic District. “No turbines in close quarters. They are unsuitable when houses are close to each other. Everything else is banned in historic districts, so why would this be different,” one person wrote in.
Another person who commented was in favor of allowing the small turbines:
"They shouldn’t be banned as long as they are suitable for that property size. This city has too many uptight citizens complaining about everything! The homeowner is doing something good for himself and the environment. Take some strain off the grid. The Historic District is a joke.”