LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky’s bid to join the E-ZPass toll network for the Ohio River Bridges Project has been rejected, the toll system’s top executive said Monday.

The state applied this summer to become a full member of E-ZPass, which it plans to use on new toll bridges between Louisville and Clark County, Ind., set to open next year.

But at a meeting of the E-ZPass executive board last week, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority used an unprecedented veto to deny Kentucky membership, E-ZPass Group executive director PJ Wilkins said.

Full membership would have given Kentucky a seat on the E-ZPass board, allowing it to cast votes and shape national toll policy. The state, through the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority, sought those benefits as it looks to other possible toll bridges, including a rebuilt Brent Spence Bridge at Cincinnati.

Kentucky would have paid a one-time $75,000 fee. There are 24 toll agencies represented on the board.

The state still can apply to be a “national” member. That category, however, will require paying six cents per transaction for every toll crossing using a transponder, and it was unclear Monday night how much those fees would total each year.

Wilkins said the New York agency’s move was “shocking” and hasn’t occurred in his 16 years at E-ZPass.

“It led to some very difficult discussions for about an hour after that, because the rest of the members clearly saw the value of bringing them in,” Wilkins said.

An MTA official did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Tolls will be charged on three bridges – a new northbound Interstate 65 span downtown, a new crossing at Utica, Ind., and the Kennedy Bridge. The states are using E-ZPass technology.

Cameras and antennae near the bridges will record license plates or scan transponders on vehicles' windshields. For drivers who don't have toll accounts, invoices will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

“Kentucky through their process picked a technology that is done by our vendor and clearly would have met the rules of coming in as a full member, which is why I moved forward with it wholeheartedly,” Wilkins said.

He said a policy committee approved Kentucky’s application before it ran into trouble at the executive board.  

Wilkins said MTA was against Kentucky’s application because the Ohio River Bridges Project has taken a “little bit different” approach to tolling by offering a local transponder sticker, in addition to the E-ZPass devices that also can be used in other states. The local tags will be free.

But the local toll tag has a different “protocol” than that used by other E-ZPass agencies, Wilkins said. MTA feared that Kentucky could favor its technology in the future, even potentially vetoing actions that involve the other type of toll tag used elsewhere, he said.

“As unlikely as that scenario would be to play out, they felt it was important enough that they decided to veto,” he said.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said Monday that last week’s vote “doesn’t make any immediate sense at all.”

“But we’re working through that,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure at the end of the day that we have the full membership that we need. And if not we’ll do what we need to do to make sure this project can happen.”

Indiana had planned to apply for E-ZPass membership early next year, the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Clint Murphy said in July.

Indiana officials referred questions Monday to Mindy Peterson, a bridges project spokeswoman, who said the E-ZPass vote doesn’t affect Indiana’s plans to apply for membership.

If the states don’t gain full membership, she said the transaction costs will be paid from toll revenue and won’t affect drivers. Still, that would seemingly result in less toll money to help pay off project debt.

“We are still running the numbers,” she said.

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