Sakonnet River Bridge goes toll-free

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority stopped collecting the 10-cent toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge at noon Friday.

The equipment is still in place, but it's been unplugged and is supposed to come down after two years of opposition by locals, including a regional petition.

"We had over, honestly, over 30,000 signatures, and if we'd kept going we would have had over three-quarters of the population of Newport County," said Jim Lipe of Tiverton.

It was a campaign by locals using every means they could think of, and they are very happy with the outcome.

The solution enshrined in the budget signed Thursday includes raising money from fees at the state Division of Motor Vehicles and a gas tax bump to go expressly to road and bridge maintenance all over the state.

"The East Bay told the legislators we needed a statewide solution to a statewide problem. Tolling the Sakonnet River Bridge was not the answer. So now people in Westerly, Warwick and Woonsocket, they'll have money to get their roads and bridges fixed. The Turnpike and Bridge Authority recognized early on that this opposition was not going away. The representatives and the senators heard us. So, it's a good day on the East Bay because the toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge has been shut off," said John Vitkevitch, an opponent of the tolls from Portsmouth.

What will happen to the equipment used to collect the tolls? Four million dollars was spent to buy and install the system. The public relations agency for the Turnpike and Bridge Authority said the authority is going to reuse, recycle and resell as much of that equipment as it can.