August 21, 2013 08:44AM
By DAVID KLEPPER
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island began collecting a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge Monday as state and federal authorities continued to investigate who set fire to tolling equipment at the bridge two days before.
No problems with the new toll were reported Monday, according to state Turnpike and Bridge Authority Chairman David Darlington, who said nearly 13,000 vehicles had passed over the bridge by 10:30 a.m., the end of Monday morning’s commute. That’s about 1,000 more than the previous Monday morning.
There are no toll booths. Drivers with E-ZPass transponders will pay automatically as they cross the bridge.
Drivers without transponders are required to submit toll payments to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority. Payments will be accepted online, by phone, mail or in person at the Authority’s Jamestown office.
Rhode Island State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell tells WPRO-AM that investigators will “pull out all the stops” to identify who set a fire early Saturday morning that damaged electrical lines connected to the bridge’s tolling equipment. On Monday, FBI spokesman Greg Comcowich said his agency was assisting in the investigation.
Darlington would not say whether the culprit was caught on video. The damage was quickly repaired and did not interfere with traffic on the bridge.
“We’ve turned anything we have over to the state police,” Darlington said. “I’m not allowed to say a whole lot more. I don’t think it’s a trivial matter.”
Many residents and business owners have opposed the toll, arguing it will be a burden on commuters, businesses and tourists using the span that connects Tiverton and Portsmouth. More than 200 people gathered at the bridge Sunday evening. Portsmouth resident John Vitkevich, one of the protest’s leaders, said state leaders should find other ways to pay for bridge maintenance.
“We want to put as much pressure on them as possible,” he said.
Lawmakers approved the 10-cent toll earlier this year. The Authority had planned for a higher toll — starting at 75 cents for in-state motorists with an E-ZPass. The Authority installed cameras to record the plates of other motorists, and planned to bill them through the mail.
Those plans were shelved after the Authority determined it wouldn’t be cost-effective to send out bills for a 10-cent toll.
The 10-cent cap on the toll will expire in April. A legislative commission is set to review potential alternatives to the charge before then. Unless lawmakers approve an alternative funding source, Darlington said the Authority will likely have to consider raising the toll.