JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) – Kentucky and Indiana officials have locked in rates for three Ohio River toll bridges and approved charging drivers based on the size of their vehicles.

The six-member tolling body for the Ohio River Bridges Project also set penalties of at least $25 for drivers who don’t pay tolls over a two-month period and $55 after three months. A $5 late fee will start with the second invoice.

In addition, the panel voted to make police, fire and emergency vehicles exempt from tolls. The states already had agreed not to charge TARC buses to cross the river.

Those details were approved Wednesday as part of the final agreements needed before the states can start tolling the RiverLink network of bridges -- the Interstate 65 Lincoln and Kennedy bridges, and an eastern span between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind.

Tolls are scheduled to begin by the end of the year. Windshield-mounted transponders should be available by late summer, RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson said.

The toll rates will depend on whether a driver has a  transponder, an account linked to a license plate or no account at all (the following rates are for a one-way trip):

Transponder rates: $2 for passenger cars, motorcycles, pickup trucks and other vehicles with two axles and less than 7 ½ feet in height; $5 for medium-sized vehicles, such as two-axle trucks more than 7 ½ feet tall, and three- and four-axle vehicles, such as pickup trucks with trailers; and $10 for large vehicles, such as semis and other trucks with more than five axles.

Registered license plate rate: $3 for passenger vehicles; $6 for medium vehicles; and $11 for large vehicles.

Unregistered license plate rate: $4 for passenger vehicles; $7 for medium vehicles; and $12 for large vehicles.

Emergency vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances, will be able to receive free transponders but won’t be charged when they cross the Ohio, Peterson said.

“You don’t ever want tolls to interfere with emergency responders taking the fastest route,” she said.

Passenger cars with a transponder will qualify for a discount that would reduce the effective toll to $1 per crossing. But to earn the discount, drivers must first make 39 crossings in a month at the $2 rate before the cheaper rate is credited to the account linked to the transponder.

Kentucky and Indiana had expected to have a toll policy agreement done in 2013. But Jim Stark, deputy commissioner for innovative project delivery at the Indiana Finance Authority, told reporters that the states remain on schedule.

“We’ve done all of our due diligence and it hasn’t affected our plans at all,” he said.

The tolling body includes Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas; Kentucky Finance Secretary William Landrum III, Dana Mayton, a member of the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority; Dan Huge, Indiana Public Finance Director; Tony McClellan, Seymour district deputy commissioner; and Kerry Stemler, a Southern Indiana businessman who is a member of the Indiana Finance Authority.

Stemler, who owns trucking and construction businesses, said he has an “insignificant” number of vehicles that would be affected by the toll rates and said his membership on the tolling body doesn’t pose a conflict of interest.

“In fact, I think I’m one that can be a voice to make sure I’m looking out for business during this process,” he said.

One Southern Indiana, the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties, had sought the lower toll rates for mid-sized trucks. Wendy Dant Chesser, the chamber's president and CEO, told WDRB News on Monday that those rates should help reduce tolls’ impact on existing businesses.

But the Kentucky Trucking Association and the Indiana Motor Truck Association both raised concerns this week about the higher rates for tractor trailers and other trucks with more than five axles.

“It’s important for the transportation and finance leaders in Indiana and Kentucky to be reminded that the business community involved in regional, short-haul are not limited to just 4 axles,” Amy Lathrop, the Indiana association’s chairwoman, said in a statement.

“Semi-tractor trucking companies that supply vital commodities like milk and bread to grocery shelves or building products for construction projects also deliver across state lines in southern Indiana and northern Kentucky,” she said.

In determining toll rates, officials from both states have said they need to strike a balance between affordable costs to drivers and fees that will raise the revenue to pay off the states’ construction bonds and other project debt.

Asked about the higher rates for large trucks, Stark said, “If you compare that rate to other toll bridge rates across the country it’s actually a fairly reasonable rate.”

But what happens if drivers don’t pay their tolls? The documents approved by the tolling body lay out the process.

After getting the first invoice, a $5 fee will be added to each additional bill. A $25 fee kicks in after two months of unpaid bills, increasing by $30 more after three months.

Kentucky and Indiana have passed laws that allow them withhold the registration of vehicles with violations until the fees are paid. The states also agreed on Wednesday that, from time to time, they will go after “persistent or chronic violators” who rack up $250 or more of tolls and fees and seek to recoup the amount owed.

Through a process called “enhanced enforcement,” the states said they could pursue lawsuits and “instructions or requests to state police departments to stop and detain these individuals,” according to the toll policy agreement.  

Indiana also agreed to let Kapsch TrafficCom, the company operating RiverLink, use its access to the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System to search for a vehicle’s owner.

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