Enforcing 10-cent toll presents new problems for state

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority held its first meeting Wednesday since tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge was signed into law.

While RITBA wanted tolls put in place to pay for operating costs of the bridge, the bill is far from a victory.

"There's still a lot of discussion to be had," RITBA Chairman David Darlington said.

With the 10 cent tolls set to take effect Aug. 19, the RITBA still has to decide how to implement them, particularly for those without an E-ZPass.

Ordinarily when someone passes through a Rhode Island toll without an E-ZPass, they receive a bill in the mail with an additional $1.50 charge for costs incurred for mailing the bill. Because the toll is only 10 cents, the RITBA will not be sending notices, but it has yet to establish enforcement for violators.

"There are still a lot of unknowns," Larry Fitzmorris said.

Fitzmorris has been to every RITBA meeting to oppose the tolls since they were first proposed in 2012.

"Our organization was hot as an old stove on this thing," Fitzmorris said.

Another major hurdle, the 10 cent tolls don't cover operating costs of the bridge. Also, the RITBA is out $250,000 from an E-ZPass sale held during the month of June. The EZ-Pass sale was meant to be a promotion before the tolls were put in place. The RITBA was expecting the tolls to be much higher, now they're out another large chunk of change after selling 13,000 transponders at half price.

With the passage of the bill, the General Assembly will form a board to study inefficiencies in transportation statewide.

"Hopefully that will result in further reform and investment in transportation in Rhode Island," transportation director Michael Lewis said.

The 10 cent toll cap is in place until April. Opponents are worried once it's lifted that RITBA will hike the tolls to make up for lost time. All RITBA needs to increase tolls after the cap is lifted is a three-vote majority of the board.