Bridge toll equipment going up: Tolls to start around July 4
Drivers crossing the Sakonnet River Bridge tomorrow (Friday) will pass beneath the new toll "gantry," the support towers for which are being built today.
"They will install the gantry overnight," said David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
But drivers "should not be alarmed — they won't be charged a toll tomorrow," Mr. Darlington said.
That won't happen until late June or, more likely, early July.
RITBA is trying to determine whether or not to charge tolls over the Fourth of July, Mr. Darlington said. "To avoid the drama" of starting tolls just before the Fourth (a Thursday) … we may wait until the following Monday," although that decision has not yet been made.
While the structure will be in place this Friday, it will still need wiring, cameras and E-ZPass scanners, work that will take another two or three weeks.
After that, the $2.3 million system must all be tested. The "fidelity" of license plate pictures must be honed to make sure that identifications are accurate and nobody is charged who should not be.
"So we are talking five or six weeks altogether," he said.
The open road tolling system is being installed by Law Enforcement Systems, the company hired by RITBA to handle the tolling.
Mr. Darlington said that transponders are available now but that customers should wait until an official announcement is made to take advantage of a purchase price credit that has been set up.
The transponders cost $20.95, an amount that will be credited to the motorist's toll account — "so in effect it will be free," he said. The same deal was available when E-ZPass started a the Newport Bridge.
Transponders will be available via the RITBA website, at the Jamestown headquarters, and at every area AAA office.
The transponders will also work out of state in the northeast part of the country from Illinois to the east and from North Carolina on north.
The work is going on despite the fact that bills before the state legislature aiming to block tolls have not yet been decided. Also not resolved is a lawsuit filed by Portsmouth challenging the legality of the toll plan.
Mr. Darlington said that the Authority is obliged to proceed with tolls. As it now stands, tolls are authorized. If that changes, "we would not charge tolls." What would become of the new equipment (whose total cost is $2.3 million) has not been decIded.
The 'open road tolling' system means that there will be no toll booths nor toll takers. Toll rates, already approved by the Federal Highway Administration, are 75 cents for vehicles with Rhode Island E-Z Pass tags, $3.75 for out-of-state E-ZPass, and $5.25 for vehicles without E-ZPasses of any kind.
Reaction: 'Great disappointment'
Chee Laureanno, a leader of the TivertonSTOP anti-toll group, called the arrival of the equipment "a great disappointment."
"They are obviously very confident," she said Thursday. "We have to rely on what our representatives are telling us — that it's not over yet, but quite frankly it seems like it's all a lot of words now ... that equipment speaks for itself."
"They are in a big rush to get that up even before the bridge is finished and presentable — right now that bridge is not very satisfactory," Ms. Laureanno said.
"The impact of this toll is going to be devastating but obviously those in power don't care. We have to remember them at the polls."
TivertonSTOP leader Jeanne Smith of Portsmouth said she remains hopeful of beating the tolls despite the construction.
"If our leadership does not repeal this toll ... and lets this go through, I say shame on them and shame on our governor ... We might as well be a gated community down here with a big'Stay Out sign."
Portsmouth Town Council member David Gleason said he too was upset by the news on the tolls.
"I am extremely saddened and disappointed, but not surprised, by the pace that the RITBA and RIDOT are working to install the toll gantry," he said. "The steel just arrived this week and I was told by a (Cardi Corporation) supervisor that it would still be several weeks to wire after it's installed. I do not know if he was correct, as I suspect it would be wired on the ground and then installed."
Mr. Gleason said he thinks the state and RITBA "are working against us" to get the gantry installed "before the bridge is technically completed."
"Everything is choreographed, in my mind," he said.
Despite the Town of Portsmouth's "legitimate lawsuit," he said, the town is being "ignored and discounted" by the state and RITBA.
"When William Ackner, as head of DOT presented this project in 2003, there was no economic impact study performed as there was never to be any tolling," said Mr. Gleason.
"They figured if they get them up, it makes it harder for the General Assembly" to stop the tolls, said Portsmouth Town Council member Keith Hamilton.
As for the town's lawsuit? "That's still hanging out there, and we still haven't gotten much of a response," said Mr. Hamilton.
Mr. Gleason and another Common Fence Point resident, Mil Kinsella, also have a problem with the noise level coming from the bridge, due to both the construction work and the traffic.
"They took so much vegetation down that that bridge is almost twice as loud as it was before. I can't sit on my deck and make a phone call," said Ms. Kinsella. "We need a sound wall. I've seen it in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I don't see them in Rhode Island."
She said the noise from the work starts "way too early" and is a constant annoyance.
"Why do they back up so much? It's 'beep, beep, beep' constantly," she said.
The noise is just going to get worse for Common Fence Point residents with the location of the tolling gantry on the Portsmouth side, she said.
"There's going to be more traffic idling and being carried over the water," she said. "Why not put those tolls in between the rocks in Tiverton, where the fumes can just bounce into the walls and not carried up the river, and the noise won't be carried up the river? It just seems like a really bad place for them.
"Of course they don't tell us anything, do they?"