Friday's rally proved that the Sakonnet River Bridge toll would definitely be an election issue for Newport County voters - if not for voters statewide.
Scattered among the demonstrators on East Main Road in front of Clements' Marketplace on Friday in Portsmouth were town council members, state General Assembly candidates, and even a U.S. Senate hopeful.
"Obviously this is a win-win situation fighting against the tolls because there is no reason not to, we have everything to lose," said Dennis Canario, a Democrat from Portsmouth seeking the Dist. 71 seat to represent Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton.
"It is about the tolls," agreed Joseph Sousa, who is running for Tiverton Town Council. "But for those of us who have lived here almost all of our lives and watched the Sakonnet River Bridge fall apart, it feels like being punched in the face. The 54-cent per gallon gas tax should be used to pay for the bridge instead of on the backs of East Bay wallets again."
Politicians from Portsmouth and Tiverton backed their constituents concerns over the rising cost of commuting to work, connecting elderly residents - many of whom are on fixed incomes - to resources in surrounding communities, and a fear that tourism would suffer after the tolls are installed.
"One thing people don't thing about is the fact that there are a lot of people who who need to commute to Fall River because they are sick and need medical treatment," said Canario. "Usually people that sick are out of work and this could be devastating to those folks."
Portsmouth resident Janet Linhares, who works a the Tiverton Essex Public Library, said the tolls would take $500 - $600 annually from her paycheck.
But besides paying more to travel to work and doctor's appointments, a Stafford Road woman worried about being further isolated from family, her church and friends who live on the other side of the bridge.
Elaine Berry, who lives on Stafford Road in Tiverton, held her sign high on Friday afternoon, because with ties both sides of Sakonnet River, if tolls are ultimately installed, she said something would have to give.
"I am very active in my church and I have already given up some volunteer work because gas keeps going up and I'm on a limited income," she said. Berry's church is located in Portsmouth. "Consider for the individual person what this is going cause."
Berry said relocating because of the tolls would not help her plight because her children live north of Sakonnet River.
The new Sakonnet River Bridge is slated to open over the next month, but tolls would likely not be installed until next summer. The charge would be the same as Newport's Claiborne Pell Bridge: $4 for non-residents and drivers without an EZ Pass and 83 cents each way for Rhode Island EZ Pass holders.
"This is a failure in leadership because we collect more money, we have the highest regional tax rate in the country and we for some reason need more money," said Barry Hinckley, a Republican from Newport, who is pitted against Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in his first-ever bid for an elected position.
Rep. Daniel P. Gordon, Jr. (R-Dist. 71) also attended Friday's rally. Although Gordon failed to gain enough signatures to appear on the ballot and will not return the state legislature when it resumes in January, he criticized the political handling of the bridge toll.
"I have seen a lot a East Bay legislators on the campaign trail against tolls when in fact they voted in favor of the budget where the toll provision was contained," said Gordon.
Gordon voted unsuccessfully against Article 20 and later voted against the budget, which contained the provision to allow tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
"When we go back into session, we need to repeal Article 20 of the budget and enact a new law renouncing tolls and explore using state infrastructure banks," said Gordon.
According to Gordon, state infrastructure banks are revolving loan funds for transportation projects that are currently used by many states to offset the costs of major reconstruction projects.