- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island’s bridge authority has spent up to $5 million installing collection equipment on the Sakonnet River Bridge for a new toll that House leaders’ proposed budget eliminates.

Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority spokeswoman Beth Bailey said Wednesday it cost between $4.6 million and $5 million to install the equipment on the bridge connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton.

The 10-cent toll has brought in some $677,500, she said. Another $210,000 to $250,000 has gone uncollected because the toll currently operates, in part, on the honor system.

The placeholder toll went into effect in August after a heated General Assembly debate last session over whether there should be one at all. Some residents and businesses in the East Bay have complained that tolls pose an unfair burden to commuters and small businesses and will hurt tourism.

RITBA has planned to hike the toll if the General Assembly did not take action. It says it needs a funding source for bridge maintenance.

Lawmakers are now finalizing details of a measure that would create a transportation infrastructure fund for statewide projects and prohibit a toll on the Sakonnet. A Senate committee passed a different version than the one the House was working on, and both sides have been meeting with the governor’s office to forge a compromise.

The House’s budget plan is scheduled to be unveiled Thursday evening at the House Finance Committee.

House Majority Whip John Edwards, a vocal toll critic from Tiverton who is the lead sponsor of the House transportation bill, said RITBA installed the equipment prematurely.

“They shouldn’t have,” the Democrat said Wednesday, adding that he asked RITBA Executive Director Buddy Croft not to go ahead. “They just proceeded, what I would say, at their own risk.”

It was not immediately clear what would happen to the tolling equipment if the toll is eliminated. The tolling system uses cameras to record the license plates of drivers without E-ZPass transponders so they can be billed through the mail, but RITBA decided it didn’t make sense to send invoices to collect a dime.

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