States yet to finalize details of Ohio River bridges tolling sys - WDRB 41 Louisville News

States yet to finalize details of Ohio River bridges tolling system

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky and Indiana officials have missed self-imposed goals for finalizing details that will govern RiverLink, the toll network on three Ohio River bridges set to start this year.

Even as the new Interstate 65 Lincoln Bridge has opened, the states have yet to complete a 160-page set of business rules that, among other things, will determine how trucks are classified. A “medium” truck would pay $5 less per crossing than a “heavy” truck, according to current toll rates.

Tolling is set to start later this year, once workers finish building an upriver bridge and rehabilitating the I-65 Kennedy Bridge. At that point, drivers will be charged to cross those two spans and the Lincoln Bridge.

The business rules are among the last major agreements needed before tolls can start. Officials first expected they would be finished by the end of October, then by end of the year.

Those dates were “too optimistic,” said David Talley, innovative finance manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “We’ve worked through a million and one issues and we’re down to a few,” he said. “Progress continues.”

But the delay has left some companies unsure how to set budgets for the future.

“What really concerns us is the lack of information about the cost of the tolls. It’s hard to make a plan for that,” said Ken Rush, who handles business development for the Greenfield, Ind.-based Irving Materials Inc. companies.

Irving Materials, or IMI, operates an asphalt plant and limestone quarry in Sellersburg, Ind., and sends its fleet across the river daily for Metropolitan Sewer District, Louisville Water Company and Ford Motor Co. projects, among others, Rush said.

With tolls set to be a business expense in less than a year, Rush said IMI already has grappled with preparing bids for upcoming publicly-funded work.

“It really throws a lot of indecision on what we’re going to do in the future when we do not know what the tolls are going to be,” he said.

Mike Hancock, Kentucky’s acting transportation secretary, said last week that he expected the business rules to be complete “real soon.” He acknowledged that deciding how to classify some trucks remains a sticking point.

“We’ve got a lot of activity and it’s coming together,” he said. “Hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll be able to begin the process of getting all that finalized.”

The concern over truck classification prompted the head of One Southern Indiana, the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties, to ask that dump trucks and other trucks with four or fewer axles not charged the same rate as tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks.

Under the current toll rates, heavy trucks would be charged $10-12 per crossing, depending on which type of toll account they use.

“There is a (vehicle) classification issue,” Hancock said. “We think we’ll get past that in good shape, and my hope is that the business rules just define more clearly the path forward and not create any obstacles.”

Meanwhile, the states and Louisville public relations firm New West have begun holding open houses on tolling.

Tolls aren’t new to the Louisville area, but the type of tolling system is. Instead of attendants at toll booths, cameras and antennae near the bridges will record license plates or scan transponders on vehicles' windshields.

If drivers choose not to open a toll account – either linked to a transponder or a license plate – they will be billed by mail based on photos of their license plate.

Two types of windshield transponders will be available. A free sticker-like device will work on the Louisville-area bridges, while a heavier transponder will cost $15 and can be used in states also in the E-ZPass network.

The proposed toll rates for vehicles with a transponder are: $1 for a frequent driver; $2 for a passenger car; $5 for a medium truck; and $10 for a heavy truck.

The frequent-user rate will be applied only after drivers with transponders cross the river 40 times in a calendar month.

The rates for vehicles with a registered license plate account are: $3 for a passenger car; $6 for a medium truck; and $11 for a heavy truck.

For vehicles without any of those accounts, the rates are: $4 for a passenger car; $7 for a medium truck; and $12 for a heavy truck.

TARC and emergency vehicles won’t be charged tolls to cross the river. Other exemptions are to be included in the business rules.

Trucking groups in both states are waiting to see how the business rules are finalized. In 2013, a consultant hired by the states predicted that tolls would lead to a sharp increase in truck traffic on the two river crossings that won’t be tolled -- the I-64 Sherman Minton and the Clark Memorial bridges.

Gary Langston, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, said he expects that diversion will occur, in part because low fuel prices will make it worth driving longer distances to avoid tolls.

“I think a lot of truckers in particular are going to find ways around it,” he said.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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