Vandal sets fire to Sakonnet Bridge tolling equipment
Utility lines that were supposed to power equipment to collect tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge were set on fire early Saturday morning. Despite the vandalistic protest, the bridge authority remained on schedule and began collecting 10 cents for each traverse of the span that connects Tiverton and Portsmouth. The toll took effect at midnight Monday.
According to David Darlington, chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the fires were set at about 1 a.m. inside of two manhole covers, damaging telecommunication and electrical lines beneath the ground. Portsmouth firefighters had the blazes extinguished by 2 a.m. Darlington said motorists were never in danger during the fire.
State police are ruling the incident arson. While no arrests have been made, authorities acquired video taken from a RITBA-owned building adjacent to where a fire burned. Authorities would not confirm if a suspect was caught on video.
An email has also become part of the investigation. Darlington said he received a threatening email on Friday night that read, “Things are about to happen.”
Had the tolls been in effect during the fires, Darlington said there would have been “very little interruption” in the collection process. He says the backup system would have kicked in immediately. Electricians from the bridge authority and Cox Communications technicians had the primary system up and running by noon on Saturday.
Darlington says it was a cowardly act. “It wasn’t a civil protest,” he said. “It could have put peoples lives at risk.”
Deputy Chief Mike O’Brien of the Portsmouth Fire Department agreed, saying he hopes “this type of civil disobedience” isn’t sensationalized.
In the first 10 hours of tolling, 12,920 vehicles crossed the Sakonnet River Bridge – an E-ZPass account was charged in 60 percent of those crossings. For comparison, during the same time frame the previous Monday when no toll was in effect, 43 percent of 11,676 vehicles had an active E-ZPass transponder.