10-cent toll begins on Sakonnet River Bridge

Rhode Island began collecting a 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge Monday as state and federal authorities continued to investigate who set fire to tolling equipment at the bridge two days before.

No problems with the new toll were reported Monday, according to state Turnpike and Bridge Authority Chairman David Darlington, who said more than 21,644 vehicles had passed over the bridge by 2:20 p.m.

"Smooth and calm," Darlington told NBC 10.

There are no toll booths. Drivers with E-ZPass transponders will be billed 10 cents per crossing. Drivers without transponders won't be billed, but they're still required by law to submit toll payments to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority.

"Every vehicle, commercial, passenger -- they're all charged a dime," Darlington said.

According to Darlington, there are no fees trying to escape the toll, but they may come.

"At the beginning of some date during the future, we're going to start charging a certain fee for folks that don't mount their transponder and so forth. And then from that point forward, we would charge, but people would be aware before they would get charged," Darlington said. "As of today, we don't have any of those fees are not in place and we wouldn't retrospectively go back and charge someone that used it today. We would set the fee, if we decide to do that and go forward."

The Turnpike and Bridge Authority said it wants to use the money for bridge maintenance and repair.

Meanwhile, state police continue to investigate an arson fire that damaged electrical lines connected to the bridge's tolling equipment. On Monday, FBI spokesman Greg Comcowich said his agency was assisting in the investigation.

Darlington would not say whether the culprit was caught on video tape. The damage was quickly repaired and did not interfere with traffic on the bridge.

"We've turned anything we have over to the state police," Darlington told the Associated Press. "I'm not allowed to say a whole lot more. I don't think it's a trivial matter."

Many residents and business owners in the area have complained the toll will be a burden to commuters, businesses and tourists using the span that connects Tiverton and Portsmouth.

More than 200 people gathered at the bridge to protest the tolls Sunday night.

Lawmakers approved the 10-cent toll earlier this year. The Turnpike and Bridge Authority planned for a higher toll - starting at 75 cents for in-state motorists with an E-ZPass. The Turnpike and Bridge Authority installed cameras to record the plates of other motorists, and planned to bill them through the mail

Those plans were shelved after the Turnpike and Bridge Authority determined it wouldn't be cost-effective to send out bills for a 10-cent toll.

The 10-cent cap on the toll will expire in April. A legislative commission is set to review potential alternatives to the charge before then. Unless lawmakers approve an alternative funding source, Darlington said the Turnpike and Bridge Authority will likely have to consider raising the toll.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.