By Marcus Green

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky's top transportation official said Wednesday that the state wants tolling to begin simultaneously on new Ohio River bridges in fall 2016 – a change from previous plans to stagger toll collection.

Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock told reporters in Louisville that waiting to collect tolls until the eastern crossing between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., joins a new downtown span is, "in our view, the best possible outcome."

Kendra York, Indiana's finance director, said her state is “absolutely” considering a tolling delay.

The two states signed a development agreement in 2012 that called on tolls to begin on each new bridge – and a retrofitted Kennedy Bridge – as soon as each span opens to traffic. As of now, Hancock said, a new downtown bridge is scheduled to open in April 2016, or six months before the eastern span is finished.

Hancock said Kentucky plans to work with Indiana to modify that agreement so that tolling will take effect when the eastern bridge opens in late October of that year – joining a new bridge downtown. (That bridge will carry all Interstate 65 traffic until the resurfaced Kennedy is complete in late 2016. At that point, the Kennedy will carry northbound traffic; I-65 North will use the new bridge.)

“Our goal would be to look at tolling whenever there's new capacity in the area – we've actually got something to show for all of our efforts -- and not just simply toll one bridge perhaps because it happened to be opened the quickest,” Hancock said.

The head of One Southern Indiana, the Clark and Floyd counties' chamber of commerce, sent a letter late last month to York, asking that Indiana consider several issues raised by her members.

“We ask that no tolls be assessed until construction is complete,” wrote Wendy Dant Chesser, the chamber's president and CEO. “There could be additional negative public opinion if tolls are collected while we wait during construction of the project.”

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Dant Chesser said: "One Southern Indiana is pleased to learn the states are considering a change to collect tolls for both new bridges simultaneously. We look forward to a final decision on this matter, and we stand ready to assist in addressing the concerns of our business members."

Hancock and York spoke after a meeting of the four-member board in charge of the $2.3 billion bridges project. Both serve as members, along with Kentucky's finance secretary and Indiana's transportation commissioner.

York said she is in “close communication” with Dant Chesser.

“We're certainly looking at the issues that she's raised and look forward to continuing to work with her members to find solutions,” York said.

The letter asked Indiana to consider five “priority solutions,” including charging lower toll rates for dump trucks and other heavy trucks; exempting TARC and tour buses from tolls; adding restrictions such as dedicated one-way traffic on the Clark Memorial Bridge during rush-hour periods; delaying tolls until construction is done; and weighing relief for local companies harmed by tolls.

York declined to say if any of the ideas mentioned in the letter are feasible, saying, “I can't really answer that question yet. We're still looking at the issues she has raised.”

A tolling policy will lay out more details about how tolls will be collected. No timeline has been set for finalizing that policy.

At Wednesday's meeting, the states voted to award a $1.7 million contract to Louisville advertising firm New West to help increase use of EZ-Pass transponders. New West had done previous advertising work on the eastern bridge.

Louisville's Doe-Anderson, which has long done work on the project, was the only other bidder, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

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