The added cost of commuting to work that the Sakonnet River Bridge toll will add to Tiverton, Little Compton and Aquidneck Island residents is pushing business owners to move their stores closer to home and inspiring residents to fight back.
After operating for five years in Portsmouth, a Tiverton woman carted her entire inventory and clientele across the bridge rather than deal with the consequences of the proposed tolls.
"There are several reasons why I moved the store, the biggest being the [Sakonnet Bridge] tolls," said Swing during an interview at her store, , grand opening on Aug. 1. "I just bought a home here on Main Road passed Nanaquaket Pond in February and I wanted to be closer. I wanted to become more involved in my community and with the coming tolls, it just got to be too much."
Residents like Swing who work on one side of the river and reside on the other will have to budget for an additional $600 in transportation costs annually - provided that they are Rhode islands residents. The impact of the tolls to our Fall River and Massachusetts neighbors will be four times that. Out-of-state drivers who cross the bridge twice per day five times per week will spend as much as $2,400 per year.
"When you are a small business, you depend on every penny coming in to make ends meet," said Nancy Swing, who moved her natural science store, Natures! to Tiverton from Portsmouth earlier this month.
Swing isn't the only local to worry about the affect a toll bridge would put on their pocket book.
Jeanne Smith, a Portsmouth resident, works in Taunton four days per week and relies on the Sakonnet River Bridge to get her there. On The fifth day, she works in East Greenwich and pays the 83-cent toll on the Claiborne Pell Bridge instead. Smith owns property in Tiverton and her daughter lives there.
"I'm stuck," said Smith. "f you think about it, I'm not the only one. That is the kind of people affected. We have the high rollers here, but we're the little people and it's just to try to get to work."
Smith organized a rally against the tolls slated for today: Friday, Aug. 10 from 3-6 p.m. at Clement's Marketplace in Portsmouth. Protesters should gather their signs and discontent and meet in the parking lot, she said. The rally will coincide with a taping of WPRO's The Buddy Cianci show, which Smith said she hopes would help bring greater visibility to those opposed to the tolls.
"It is true that the Sakonnet River Bridge handles in excess of 40,000 cars a day, which is higher than the Jamestown and Newport bridges combined," said Robert L. Mushen, Little Compton Town Council president at a council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9. "It is an almost irresistible source of funds."
The bridge, which is on schedule to have tolling booths installed by the summer of 2013, could easily garner more than tens of thousands in revenue daily. According to the state Department of Transportation, about 40 percent of vehicles crossing the Sakonnet River bridge are from out-of-state. The agency claims charging them to use the tolls would offset the cost of repairs to roads and bridges from Rhode Island taxpayers.
What residents and local government officials are asking now is what part of this burden should residents be expected to share.
"Are we going to take the approach that 83 cents is okay, or take approach that zero is okay," asked Mushen when a Little Compton resident requested the town assemble a committee to block the installation of tolls.
If tolls are installed on the Sakonnet River Bridge, Aquidneck Island residents would have to pay to pay in order to leave the island, while Tiverton and Little Compton residents would be cut off from the rest of Rhode Island.
"This is my story too - along with all other people who live on one side and work on the other side of this bridge," said Smith.