Town asks court to block Sakonnet Bridge tolls

The town of Portsmouth on Thursday filed a request for a restraining order in federal court to kill tolls on the new Sakonnet River Bridge.

But the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority still plans on putting open-road tolling into place. No toll booths, but the authority will get your money.

Lanes on the Sakonnet River Bridge will be shut down Thursday night as construction crews hoist gantries into place high above the road. They'll be equipped with sensors to collect tolls from every car -- 75 cents for Rhode Island E-ZPass holders, $3.75 for out-of-state E-ZPass holders, and $5.25 for cars without E-ZPass.

"If you don't have E-ZPass, it's what's called a video toll. We have to capture your license plate and do a national DMV search and send you a bill for that," said David Darlington, of the RITBA.

Darlington said it is fair to charge out-of-state drivers more because 40 percent of the traffic on the bridge is drivers who pay nothing to help maintain it.

Tolls will begin to be collected in five or six weeks, but at the State House some are still trying to stop it.

"This is not a done deal, and I think the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority is being extremely presumptuous by putting it up so early. Are they going to be able to return that equipment if my bill goes through the House? Or if somebody comes out of the Senate that says there's no toll on that bridge?" said state Rep. John Edwards, D-Portsmouth.

Not his choice, says Darlington.

"The law was passed last June that requires that the assets be transferred to the turnpike authority and that we charge a toll in order to maintain the structure," Darlington said. "So, we're doing what's under the law."

A federal judge is being asked to decide if that law is constitutional, and the General Assembly may still decide to change it.