LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If all goes according to the plan put forth by Kentucky and Indiana, tolls will be a fact of life for drivers in Louisville and Southern Indiana by this time next year.

Sometime around the end of 2016, it will cost money to use three of the five bridges across the Ohio River: the new Interstate 65 Lincoln Bridge and the renovated Kennedy Bridge next to it, and a span being built eight miles upriver.

But until this week – and months behind schedule -- representatives of both states had yet to finalize a host of key details that will govern RiverLink, the network of toll bridges that will use scanners and cameras to monitor drivers and assess the fees.

The six-member panel that oversees toll decisions on the bridges met Wednesday in Jeffersonville, Ind., and approved dozens of pages of documents that outline how tolls will work. Based on those, information from RiverLink and interviews with officials from both states, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Why are there toll bridges in the first place?

Although the Ohio River Bridges Project was approved in 2003, Kentucky and Indiana wrestled with how to pay for it for years. In 2007, transportation officials Kentucky floated the idea of tolls and privatizing highway projects. In 2012, the federal government approved tolls for the project. 

Are there tollbooths?

No. The tolls will be collected electronically. Cameras and other equipment near the bridges will record license plates or scan transponders on vehicles' windshields. Drivers without toll accounts -- linked either to the transponder or a license plate – will get a bill in the mail.

How much are the tolls?

It depends on the vehicle you drive, how often you cross the river and the type of RiverLink account you have – or if you have one at all. This chart gives an overview of the various rates:

The $2 rate – or $4 roundtrip – is for vehicles with less than two axles that have a transponder. Those vehicles include motorcycles, pickup trucks, sedans and SUVs.

Will the tolls increase each year?

Yes, they will increase by at least 2.5 percent a year starting in 2018. That means that a $4 toll to cross the river within the next year will be $5 by 2026.

Is there a $1 rate for drivers who cross the river for work?

Passenger cars with a transponder can get a discount that amounts 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.

It’s important to note that the discount is measured by the transponder and not by the account. In other words: A family with two cars under one toll account, each with its own transponder, can’t get the discount by making 20 crossings with each car.

I’ve heard there are two types of transponders. Is this correct?

Correct. A local transponder will work only on the three RiverLink bridges. That device will be free for each vehicle it’s placed inside.

Another transponder also will work on the RiverLink bridges and any of the toll roads in the E-ZPass network, which includes at least 16 states and the Indiana Toll Road in northern Indiana. That device will cost $15.

When will the transponders be available?

The states expect both transponders to be available this summer.

Can I move the transponders from one of my cars to the other?

You can move the $15 transponder between vehicles, as long as they’re registered on the same account.

The free transponders aren’t meant to be transferred among vehicles.

I want to use a transponder. Do I have to have a minimum balance?

You have to have a minimum balance of $20.

How can I pay?

It depends on how you set up your account. If you do it by mail or at a customer service center (one will be at Main and Preston streets in Louisville; the other at Quartermaster Station along 10th Street in Jeffersonville), you can use cash, check, money order, a credit card or a debit card.

You also can set up an account over the phone or online. In both instances, you can use debit and credit cards, electronic checks (ACH) and electronic fund transfer (EFT).

So my account will be charged every time I cross?

Yes. The toll amount will be deducted from your balance.

I cross the river a lot. What happens if I don’t have enough in my balance to cover the tolls?

You’ll have until noon the day after you’re notified that you have a negative balance to replenish your account.

What do I need to have to create an account, whether it’s based on my license plate or a transponder?

This chart shows what you need:

Do businesses qualify for the frequent-user discount?

No. But the states say the rates for medium-sized vehicles are affordable for local businesses.

So how much will I pay if I want to use a toll bridge but don’t have an account?

You’ll be charged $4, or $8 round-trip, for a passenger car.

What happens if I don’t pay?

Officials have 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.

Under laws passed in Kentucky and Indiana, the states can withhold your registration until you pay. The states also agreed to something called “enhanced enforcement” for the most chronic offenders who rack up $250 of tolls and fees.

That enforcement could include lawsuits and “instructions or requests to state police departments to stop and detain these individuals,” according to the toll policy agreement approved this week. 

What about drivers outside of Kentucky and Indiana?

Jim Stark of the Indiana Finance Authority told reporters Wednesday that out-of-state drivers will eventually be turned over to collection agencies if they don’t pay.

Since at least 2014, the states have said they’re considering reciprocal agreements with states outside the region; in those states, drivers could have their registration withheld until they pay.

Getting those agreements signed has “not been on the front burner,” said Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

What about the Ohio River bridges that won’t be tolled? Is traffic expected to increase on them?

Yes. A consultant hired by Kentucky estimates that combined daily traffic on the Clark Memorial and Sherman Minton bridges will increase from 102,300 vehicles per day in 2012 to 152,668 in 2030.

The addition of tolls is expected to result in daily traffic on the I-65 bridges falling, from 121,995 in 2012 to 87,071 in 2030.

Will my toll information be shared with marketers or other third parties?

Customer account information can’t be disclosed under Kentucky or Indiana law, according to the toll rules agreed to this week.

How will toll collectors know that a transponder with a cheaper rate isn’t being used with a vehicle like a tractor trailer, which is supposed to pay more?

RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson said the tolling technology will be able to identify when a transponder is being used improperly and flag it.

How long will tolls last?

The states say tolls will last until 2053, when construction debt for the project is paid off; at that point officials will decide whether to keep them on the spans or take them off. WDRB News reported last year that a financial plan for the project counts on tolls until 2068

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