Kentucky, Indiana in 'final stages' of deciding toll details on Ohio River Bridges Project
SPARTA, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky and Indiana are in the “final stages” of hammering out details of a cash-free toll system on three Louisville bridges, a top transportation official told lawmakers on Tuesday.
David Talley, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s innovative finance manager, said he expects the states will finalize the rules governing toll operations by the end of October.
Those rules, for instance, will include which local drivers qualify for the lowest toll rates and essentially “dictate how the system operates on a day-to-day basis,” he said, speaking at a meeting of the Kentucky legislature’s interim joint committee on transportation at the Kentucky Speedway.
Once the rules have been adopted, Talley said the states will launch a public relations campaign that will last until tolls start in late 2016.
“We want to make sure that people know what the system is, understand how it works, understand how they can get the lowest toll rate,” he said.
Kentucky lawmakers raised a number of questions – some old, some new – about Louisville’s toll bridges at the meting. In response, Talley mostly recapped the finer points of a system that will use cameras and sensors, rather than toll booths, to identify drivers who cross the toll bridges.
Tolls will be charged on three spans – the Kennedy Bridge, a new Interstate 65 bridge being built next to it and an upriver span between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind. The I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge between Louisville and New Albany, Ind., and the Clark Memorial Bridge connecting Second Street downtown and Jeffersonville, Ind., won’t be tolled.
Toll rates will vary. “Frequent” drivers – a category still not defined – will be charged $1 per crossing. A passenger car that’s not registered in the toll system will be charged $4, or $8 to make a round trip across the river.
Large trucks will be charged $10 per trip if they have a transponder and won’t be eligible for the discounts for frequent drivers.
A six-member tolling board will determine any change in toll rates, which were set based on a 2013 traffic study and estimated to be enough to meet debt payments on toll-backed bonds. The fees will increase by 2 percent each year to keep up with inflation, Talley said.
Kapsch TrafficCom, the Austrian company the states chose to design, install and operate the system, will collect tolls in one of three ways. Cameras and antennae near the bridges will record license plates or scan transponders on vehicles' windshields. In the case of drivers who don't have toll accounts, invoices will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.
The states hope to encourage people to use transponders, which also would result in lower collection costs, Talley said. For each dollar collected, it will cost 4 to 5 cents to process a transaction if people “heavily use a transponder,” compared with as much as 30 cents per dollar if more people rely on license-plate tolls, he said.
Rep. Steve Riggs of Louisville told committee members he paid a 75-cent toll on a recent trip to Florida but later got a bill in the mail – with a $6 service charge.
“So we had to send back $6.75,” said Riggs, a Democrat. “I thought, ‘What a rip-off.’”
Riggs said he’s “skeptical” of the all-electronic system that will be installed in Louisville and Southern Indiana, noting that 10 to 12 toll roads without cash options exist in the United States.
Other issues remain unsolved. Talley said the states haven’t yet determined how to deal with cars that have temporary tags, for instance. Meanwhile, motorcyclists have petitioned Kentucky officials in recent months to consider special rates for those vehicles.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who is running for Kentucky Attorney General, asked whether personal details collected from drivers will be used for other purposes, such as marketing.
While the data will be used to understand larger trends, Talley said the state law authorizing tolls makes it clear that the use of the personal information is restricted. For instance, it keeps customer accounts shielded from requests under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
“That information is to be used only for toll collection purposes,” Talley said.
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