Clock's ticking on tolls for Sakonnet River Bridge

Residents and business owners who live and work along the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, so far, go freely without paying a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

But they have been angry about plans to charge them to cross the bridge, even as it seemed inevitable when the automated tolling sensors were installed.

"I hope they just abolish the tolls altogether. It seems like a very foolish thing on a small bridge just to penalize the businesses on Aquidneck Island that we have to take the brunt of this for the bridges for the whole state," said Gary Vital of Aquidneck Pools and Spas.

But the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority was given control of the bridge from the state Department of Transportation to insure there'll be money to maintain it.

"We assess how much money we need to take care of the assets and then we adjust the revenue to insure the money is there to take care of it," said David Darlington, chairman of RITBA.

House lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to delay action on the tolls until February 2014. Senate lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the issue Thursday.

However the clock is ticking.

Technically, the bridge has not reached its "substantial completion" phase, and may not get to that point until March 2014.

Because Route 24 goes between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, it's considered and interstate. And because the Sakonnet River Bridge, part of Route 24 was built with a substantial amount of federal money, they are ruled by federal guidelines.

"Once the bridge, or in this case the construction, is substantially complete, than there is a prohibition on tolls. And you would have to seek the permission of the Federal Highway Administration in order to put a toll on, and they don't give it," Darlington said.