Sakonnet River Bridge users skirt 'honor system' toll

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 10/7/2013

It’s only a dime, but some people refuse to pay it.

The Rhode Island Toll and Bridge Authority began collecting a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge on Aug. 19. Lawmakers enacted the dime toll as a placeholder until April 2014 as they continue to work out – and fight over – what an eventual toll rate will be.

Collection of tolls from E-ZPass account holders has gone well, the agency says, with nearly 970,000 documented trips and $97,000 in the bank for operation and maintenance.

Things get tricky from here.

The agency does not yet have a system in place to collect cash tolls or any non-E-ZPass user. The agency has asked non-account holders to pay their tolls via an online honor system.

Turns out very few people have taken them up on it. Toll agency director David Darlington was recently quoted by WPRO talk radio as saying the agency has missed out on $36,000 from an estimated 360,000 trips by non-account holders.

The four-lane bridge, which carries Rhode Island Route 24 between Portsmouth and Tiverton, opened as a toll-free facility in 2012. It replaced an older structure that carried an 18-ton weight limit for trucks.

A law enacted in 2012 handed over the operation and maintenance of the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge to the Rhode Island Toll and Bridge Authority.

The agency, which handles operation and maintenance of the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge, sought tolls on the Sakonnet to offset operation and maintenance costs.

An environmental impact statement and financial review conducted earlier this year suggested the agency collect $2 per axle on the Sakonnet.

The Rhode Island General Assembly waged a battle over tolls. A majority eventually enacted the 10-cent placeholder toll and appointed a special legislative commission to come up with a longer-term plan.

That panel, chaired by state Rep. Helio Melo and state Sen. Daniel Da Pointe, both Democrats from Providence, began meeting in late September. Their six-month charge will deliver a recommendation before April 1, 2014 – when the 10-cent toll is scheduled to sunset.

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