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Some to pay 10-cent Rhode Island bridge toll on honor system

The General Assembly had initially voted to block any toll for the new bridge, but then voted for the 10-cent toll to preserve the ability, under federal rules, to impose a higher toll in the future.

By David Klepper
The Associated Press

8/14/2013

JAMESTOWN, R.I. — Drivers without an E-ZPass transponder who use the Sakonnet River Bridge will be asked to pay a new 10-cent toll using a decidedly low-tech method: the honor system.

The toll is set to begin Monday. Drivers who have an E-ZPass will pay the toll electronically when they pass over the bridge. While cameras will record the license plates of other cars, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority has no plans to mail bills to motorists without E-ZPasses, leaving it up to them to submit their payments on their own. The authority plans to accept payments on its website.

"We're not sure how much money will be collected," Authority Chairman David Darlington said following a meeting of the authority board Wednesday. After a few months, the Authority will review how much money has been collected and may consider billing motorists through the mail, Darlington said.

Lawmakers approved the toll for the bridge connecting Tiverton and Portsmouth this summer. The General Assembly had initially voted to block any toll for the new bridge, but then voted for the 10-cent toll to preserve the ability, under federal rules, to impose a higher toll in the future.

Many residents in the area argue that any toll on the bridge will burden commuters, local businesses and tourists. In an act of protest, Portsmouth resident John Vitkevich is encouraging residents to leave their EZ-Passes at home or in the shielding bag they came in to circumvent the toll and deprive the authority of revenue. Vitkevich said he expects the toll to increase as soon as next year.

"If they want to impose a toll they can," he said. "We just want to make it more difficult."

People unhappy with the toll are also planning a protest at the bridge Sunday.

Lawmakers initially authorized a higher toll — starting at 75 cents for in-state motorists with an E-ZPass — to support bridge repair and maintenance. The authority installed EZ-Pass readers and cameras to record the plates of other motorists, and planned to bill them through the mail.

That option makes less sense for a 10-cent toll because it would cost more than a dime to mail the bill.

Lawmakers have vowed to investigate alternatives to bridge tolls in the next several months. If no other funding source for bridge maintenance is found the authority will have to consider either imposing higher tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge or giving control of the bridge back to the state's Department of Transportation, Darlington said.

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