LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Transportation officials are hesitant to say when tolling will start on three Ohio River bridges, acknowledging that the all-electronic collection system needs additional scrutiny before it goes live.

For months, Kentucky and Indiana representatives said tolling was expected to begin in December. But the states’ tolling body on Wednesday agreed to begin charging drivers only after the final tests are complete.

“We anticipate this may happen around the end of the year,” said Clint Murphy, tolling director for the Indiana Department of Transportation. The testing is “very logistical complex and rigorous, so we don’t want to estimate too closely what we think that might be.”

The states plan to announce a start date for tolling after the tests are complete, said Mindy Peterson, a RiverLink spokeswoman. That raises the possibility that all bridges between Louisville and Clark County, Ind., will remain free to cross until early 2017.

Tolling was supposed to start on the RiverLink network of bridges -- the Interstate 65 Lincoln and Kennedy bridges, and a yet-to-be named span between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind. -- once new lanes had been added across the river. But earlier this year, state officials gave themselves the option of seeking a delay to add more customers or continue testing.

The resolution approved Wednesday ties the start of tolling to the end of testing.

RiverLink won’t have toll booths. Instead, tolls between $2 and $12 per crossing 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.

Thus far, Peterson said, the tests have occurred at a test track in New York and on the eastern bridge. Starting next week, it’s expected that cars will begin gauging the equipment on the downtown Interstate 65 bridges.

Asked if December was still a likely goal for the start of tolling, Peterson said: “I think the hope is that tolling will start before the end of the year. Realistically, it’s hard to say.”

“The purpose of testing is you go through all of these scenarios, you have any operational issues, questions, coordination – you deal with all of that before you have customers involved,” she said. “So there are a number of things that have to make sure are functioning correctly.”

Jim Stark, the Indiana Finance Authority’s deputy commissioner for innovative project delivery, said it’s not fair to drivers to start tolling if problems with the system haven’t been solved.

“That’s what this last stage of testing is all about,” he said. “And yes – it’s been a long time. We’ve talked about it for months.”

Indiana is in charge of the East End Bridge. Stark said the “target date” for completing the eastern span is Dec. 17, raising the possibility that it may open to traffic before tolls start.

“We’d rather get that bridge open and have it available to the public -- and then when tolling starts it will start,” he said.

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