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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The tolls have been established that will help pay for the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.
The tolls were set by the Kentucky-Indiana Tolling Body.
The initial rates for vehicles paying tolls with transponders will be $1 for frequent commuter cars, $2 for cars, $5 for box and panel trucks and $10 for tractor trailers. More detailed criteria for frequent commuters and truck classifications will be determined by the Tolling Body in future meetings setting tolling policy.
In the past, the Transportation Cabinet has said it would define a frequent commuter as someone who crosses the bridge 20 times or 40 times both ways each month.
Higher rates – because of higher administrative costs – will be charged for motorists who don't use transponders and must be tracked by video camera identification of their license plates.
Motorists who register their license plates and establish pre-paid accounts will pay $3 for cars, $6 for medium trucks and $11 for heavy trucks. For motorists who don't register and choose to be invoiced rather than establish pre-paid accounts, the rates will be $4 for cars, $7 for medium trucks and $12 for heavy trucks.
To keep pace with inflation, the Tolling Body also approved an annual toll rate increase of 2.5 percent or the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater. Once the initial rates had been in effect for at least one year, the increases would take effect July 1 each year thereafter.
Toll revenues will be shared equally by Kentucky and Indiana to help meet their financial obligations to pay for the project.
Frequent commuters will be provided with a free transponder to place in their car. A prepaid account will be set up and $1 will be withdrawn from the account every time the car crosses a tolled bridge.
There will be no toll collectors, and 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.
Tolls are needed to fill the gap to pay for the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Tolls will cover the costs not covered by traditional highway funding and a federal grant.
The consulting firm that presented the study looked at things such as how many drivers will choose to take a longer route to pay a toll, and how that will affect the bottom line.
Transportation officials have also said these rates aren't fixed. Drivers should expect an increase of approximately 2.5 percent every year.
Just starting out, some southern Indiana business workers say the expense is a lot.
"Ten dollars a truck, we figure that's twenty dollars per truck per trip," said Bart O'Leary of Gotta Go Trucking. "We figured up this morning roughly $220 thousand a year."
Some small business owners say the whole thing is bad for business.
"For our small business, it's about $140 thousand a year. I have talked to other business in the area, it's astronomical numbers for them."
O'Leary echoed that sentiment.
"We are just concerned about the fees that will be burdened by our company."
The East End, Downtown Crossing, and Kennedy Bridges are scheduled to be tolled. The Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges will not.
During public meetings on the bridge tolls, a number of people voiced their opposition to them. "If they want to put a toll, fine. $.50 $.75, something like that for the people that are going to be on that bridge every day," said Stan Martin at a meeting on July 22. He goes across the bridge once a week for medical appointments.
At the same meeting, Marcellus Minor, who rides the bus across the bridge daily, said 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.
Bridge project leaders say they 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, it 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.