- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority may reuse or try to sell equipment on the Sakonnet River Bridge that is no longer needed after the legislature eliminated the 10-cent toll there, an authority spokesman said Tuesday.

Some equipment, including cameras and servers, could be reused on the Newport Bridge, RITBA spokesman Jim Malachowski said. The board will also explore the possibility of selling the equipment, he said.

While the other equipment has been taken down, the gantry will remain up for the time being. Malachowski said it can be used for messaging, including traffic reports or Amber alerts. It could be sold if there is interest.

The toll was shut down Friday after the General Assembly eliminated it in the 2014-2015 budget as part of a larger plan to address transportation infrastructure projects statewide through different revenue sources.

RITBA previously estimated it spent $4.6 million to $5 million on installation costs. But Malachowski said Tuesday that a more detailed review found it was just over $4 million. The amount includes $2 million for the gantry; $450,000 for toll collection processing; $296,000 for consulting, legal services and testing services; and $209,000 for advertising, public awareness and signage.

Malachowski said RITBA would have to pay a $1 million contract termination fee to the company hired to pursue toll violators on the Sakonnet and Newport bridges if the board decides an outside processor isn’t needed.

RITBA has collected a total of $800,000 from the Sakonnet toll since it went into effect in August. Between $200,000 and $250,000 went uncollected because only those with E-ZPass transponders were initially charged, and others were expected to send payments voluntarily.

The tolling system uses cameras to record the license plates of drivers without an E-ZPass so they can be billed through the mail. RITBA decided at first it didn’t make sense to pursue that money, given that the toll was just a dime. It later decided to have bills sent to those who crossed the span at least 25 times.

The 10-cent placeholder toll was instituted after a heated legislative debate last session over the existence of any toll at all. Many residents and lawmakers from the East Bay and Aquidneck Island said it posed an unfair financial burden and would harm small businesses and tourism.

RITBA had planned to raise it. Instead, the agency will now get additional money for bridge maintenance as part of the General Assembly’s transportation infrastructure plan.

The agency’s board meets July 9.

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