Bridge tolls meet opposition at public forum - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bridge tolls meet opposition at public forum

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CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- The first of two public meetings regarding Ohio River bridge tolling and its possible effects on low income communities was held in Clarksville Monday.

Preliminary plans set the target toll rates at $1 per crossing for frequent commuters ($2 roundtrip), $2 for casual travelers, and higher -- yet currently unspecified rates -- for larger box trucks and semis.

For many at the meeting it was their first change to take a look at the plans, and many were unhappy with the idea of tolls. "If they want to put a toll, fine. $.50 $.75, something like that for the people that are going to be on that bridge everyday," said Stan Martin. He goes across the bridge once a week for medical appointments.

Marcellus Minor on the other hand doesn't even own a car. He rides the bus across the bridge daily, but came to educate himself on the changes. He thinks the tolls are unfair, especially for low income individuals. "You shouldn't have to pay so much for a toll if you are going to spend so much government money to build this," he said.

There will be no toll collectors, no toll booths; instead, there will be non-stop electronic tolling, using transponders inside each car to bill drivers every month. The transponders will be placed under the rear view mirror, and devices mounted above the freeway will scan the barcode on each device.

Officials say they plan on giving these devices away for free to mitigate the cost on low income individuals. But some say even though the transponder may be free, it doesn't take away from the fact that they'll be paying every time they cross.

"That's a lot of money for those who are on a fixed income," said Tim Tilton. He crosses the bridge at least seven times a week, usually multiple times a day."It's going to mean: should I put that in the gas tank, should I pay for the bridge, or should I hold off on getting my medication because I need to balance out what I need the most?"

Bridge project leaders are aware of the concerns. The group 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 Bureau and income data from the American Community Survey.

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. The assessment found that would total around four 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, as opposed to $1 for frequent commuters.

Currently, the East End, Downtown Crossing and Kennedy Bridges are scheduled to be tolled. The Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges will not.

The 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 to mitigate the toll costs.

TARC has requested that it 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's request.

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.

Another meeting will be held in Louisville on Tuesday at the Center for African American Heritage from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 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.

Copyright 2013 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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