Bridge project leaders ask for public input on tolls - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bridge project leaders ask for public input on tolls

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CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- A public meeting was held in Clarksville, Ind. for members of the public to share their concerns on bridge tolls that will almost certainly have an impact on area drivers.

Those tolls will not be collected until the Ohio River Bridges Project is completed in 2016, but project leaders wanted the public to start thinking about the end of the road.

Project leaders are specifically concerned about the burden on low-income drivers.  Some believe the tolls are unfair altogether.

Bridge project leaders released a draft assessment that suggests tolls could put those with "low income" or "minority status," also known as "Environmental Justice communities" at a disadvantage.

Calculations were based on race data from the Census and income data from the American Community Survey.  Clarksville Councilman John Gilkey says he believes the proposed tolls would end up hurting folks in southern Indiana the most.

"We have a fairly high number of people in Clarksville who are not at the high end of the earning scale who will be profoundly impacted by the project," said Gilkey.

In addition to figuring out how much impact the tolls cost on average, they also assessed the annual cost of tolls in relation to income. 

According to the DRAFT Assessment of Economic Effects of Tolling and Potential Strategies for Mitigating Effects of Tolling on Low-Income and Minority Populations:

"The annual cost of tolls was calculated based on a daily commute.  The calculations used a tolling scenario of $1.00 each way (i.e., $2.00 round trip) multiplied by 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, for 12 months per year.  In this manner, the cost for tolls would be $40.00 per month and approximately $480.00 annually."

Those figures were from the toll scenario in the March 5, 2012 KRS 175B Financial Plan.

"We are talking about taking a substantial amount on an annual basis out of that income that they are going to be earning," said Gilkey.

The assessment found that would total around 4 percent of a low-income person's 2010 annual income.  That information is based on a 2010 Health and Human Services poverty threshold with an annual gross income of $11,139. 

Those who are not labeled "frequent commuters" are proposed to pay $2 each way. The figures have not been set in stone.  Even with a proposed "discounted toll" for low-income commuters.

"Now if they reduce the tolls, it eliminates a portion of that cost, but they are still being penalized," Gilkey said.

"I have a lot of people who are concerned about the tolls, but people think it's useless at this point," Gilkey said.

"We can't get our state and federal legislators to get behind us."

Gilkey said he believed if Indiana had agreed to pay a certain amount of money for the bridges in the first place, the tolls would not have happened.  Project leaders maintain the project would not be possible without tolls.

Currently, the East End, Downtown Crossing and Kennedy Bridges are scheduled to be tolled.   The Sherman Minton and Clarksville Memorial bridges are to remain free.

After analyzing traffic patterns, the assessment found that "EJ" cars, or drivers who come from the "Environmental Justice" areas will likely increase by a greater percentage than "Non-EJ" cars.

At this point, project leaders say they are asking for the public's input on what to do to ensure some of those "EJ" populations are not put at a disadvantage. 

While the amount of the tolls has not been determined, project organizers say the low-income populations could benefit from being given free transponders which will be readily available.  Organizers had a suggestion for a plan on providing free transponders at many locations (more accessible) with lower costs for tolls.

Those transponders will allow those who pass by to deduct amounts off as they travel through.  Those who are not "frequent commuters" could be subject to video tolling, meaning a picture of their license plate would be documented and they would be sent a bill.

That same assessment found that 53% TARC of users crossed a bridge every day and of those, 36 % were low income and 57% were a member of a minority.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation have agreed to give TARC $20 million for park and ride facilities, creating and consolidating bus stops, shuttle services and other improvements to allow for access between the two states.

TARC has requested that they be exempt from the bridge tolls.  Rep. Jim Wayne of Kentucky said he planned to speak at a meeting on Tuesday in Louisville.  He said he supported the request for TARC to be exempt from the tolls. 

Citizens can comment in a variety of ways at the meeting or any time before July 26.  Written letters can be mailed to Bridges Project Research, 620 W. Main St., 4th Floor, Louisville, KY 40202.

The responses at the meeting, along with other input from the public will be placed in a final report which will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and bi-state Tolling Body, who set the toll rates.

An additional meeting will be held in Louisville on Tuesday at the Center for African American Heritage from 4 – 7 pm at 17th and Muhammad Ali Blvd.

To read a copy of the DRAFT Assessment of Economic Effects of Tolling and Potential Strategies for Mitigating Effects of Tolling on Low-Income and Minority Populations, visit www.kyinbridges.com

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