Commuters traveling from Portsmouth over the Sakonnet River Bridge on Route 24 will drive underneath the tolling gantry for the first time Friday morning - but they won't be charged until this summer.
Although construction crews are slated to complete the installation of the tolling infrastructure by early Friday morning, the technology won't be ready to start charging drivers for at least another three to four weeks.
"Yes, tonight [Thursday] it will be erected across the roadway and be up by the time people get up tomorrow [Friday] morning, but this doesn't mean it will be operational," said David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
"By [Friday] morning, it will just be in place. Equipment will still need to be put on, wiring will be needed to make it active and there is a tuning process that has to be done and then testing."
The RITBA is moving forward with construction of the tolling gantry on the Sakonnet River Bridge despite a restraining order filed in U.S. District Court by the town of Portsmouth on Thursday afternoon.
At about 4 p.m. Thursday, the RITBA received notice of Portsmouth's bid for a restraining order, but Darlington said the order did not require any action to cease construction activity in preparation for tolling on Route 24.
"The order is actually for a temporary restraining order on tolling until the lawsuit is decided," said Darlington, adding that RITBA lawyers are not convinced that the town's bid to block tolls will be successful.
A hearing is scheduled on June 10 where a judge will hear arguments on whether to allow tolling to begin during an ongoing lawsuit filed by Portsmouth on April 25.
The complaint accuses the RITBA and Michael Lewis, director of the state Department of Transportation, of violating the Federal-Aid Highway Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
"We obviously will contest this on June 10 and find out if a judge will restrain tolls until [the] lawsuit is finished," said Darlington.
Currently, local legislators have several active bills in the General Assembly seeking to block tolls by creating a separate funding sources and reversing the transfer of ownership of the bridge by the RITBA.
Darlington said the RITBA cannot hold off on tolling because, as the law currently stands, it is responsible for paying for $38 million in maintenance on the Sakonnet River Bridge and Newport County's other three bridges. The agency's only revenue source are the tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge and now, on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
"I think they are being extremely presumptuous," said Rep. John G. Edwards in an interview on Thursday evening. "We still have a couple of bills in play that are still active and RITBA needs be very careful."
Portsmouth also recently filed a lawsuit questioning the validity of the vetting process and impact surveys that were studied by the Federal Highway Administration before it granted approval.
"If we either repeal the transfer or kill the toll on bridge, what are they going to do with all this expensive equipment," asked Edwards. "Return it for pennies on the dollar? Taxpayers should be outraged."
The entire toll system, from software and cameras to the metal gantry and supporting structure, costs about $2.3 million, according to Darlington. Much the equipment, he said, could be returned with restocking fees if legislation to block the toll is successful.
As residents prepare for the toll, which will likely begin around July 1, Darlington recommended commuters hold off on purchasing transponders.
"Don't buy your transponders today," said Darlington. "It is likely that when we announce [a satellite East Bay] location where people can get them that we will be offering a discount - if not free process - for everyone who needs an E-Z Pass."
Within the next two weeks, the RITBA plans to announce the opening of a satellite location in the East Bay where residents can pick up E-Z passes without having to travel to the Jamestown office and pay the Newport Bridge toll.
"I hope I never have to set tolls again. I think we've set them for the foreseeable future," said Darlington.
Did you drive under the toll gantry today? What did you think? Tell us in the comment section below.