Collecting RiverLink tolls from out-of-state truckers a concern
At hearing, Kentucky trucking group official raises doubts about states' ability to recoup unpaid tolls
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Under Kentucky’s plan to crack down on drivers who don’t pay their RiverLink toll bills, the state is giving vehicle-enforcement officers the power to order commercial trucks with unpaid tolls off the road.
Emergency regulations signed by Gov. Matt Bevin that took effect in November let officers place tractor trailers out of service until their owners settle any delinquent bills. The rules, which affect three Ohio River bridges that will start tolling next Friday, are scheduled to go before a legislative panel in early 2017 for approval.
But at a public hearing on Thursday, a Louisville trucking executive questioned whether the regulations will result in collections from trucks not based in Kentucky or Indiana. Those two states can withhold the registrations of vehicles from their state that don’t pay tolls, but there are few other enforcement tools for other drivers.
Bill Usher, president of Usher Transport Inc., said it’s in the best interest of local trucking companies to pay tolls because the states are likely to hike toll rates if revenues fall short. Large trucks will pay the highest rates -- $10 to $12 for each crossing of the Interstate 65 Kennedy and Lincoln spans downtown, and the new Lewis and Clark Bridge.
“I wonder how effective it will be because most of our weigh stations and checkpoints where these vehicles would be caught are not operable most of the time,” said Usher, a board member of the Kentucky Trucking Association.
His company primarily ships fuel and other hazardous liquids in 100 vehicles in Kentucky and about 200 in the eastern United States. Usher estimates that tolls will add approximately $140,000 a year in operating costs, resulting in a 15-18 percent rate increase on Usher Transport’s customers.
As a result, Usher said he plans to avoid the toll bridges and use the toll-free Interstate 64 Sherman Minton Bridge when possible.
Kentucky has 14 weigh stations, but Usher said those facilities are open less than 30 percent of the time.
“The motor carrier industry in the state of Kentucky is very much for enforcement, not just of the tolls but also of vehicle enforcement, and we feel that the state to this point has been remiss in operating the weigh stations the way they should be,” he said.
In an interview, Usher said the state trucking association has been asking Kentucky State Police to increase enforcement at the stations.
Collecting tolls on the RiverLink bridges is essential to Kentucky and Indiana’s debt obligations for the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project that fully opened earlier this month.
About 7 percent of tolls assessed during 2017 are expected to go uncollected during the first year of RiverLink before leveling off at about 2.5 percent by 2029, according to a consultant’s estimates. Besides the ability to withhold a driver’s registration renewal, the states also may ask collection agencies to pursue unpaid bills.
But neither state has signed enforcement agreements with other states in the region. Megan McLain, the Transportation Cabinet’s assistant general counsel, said once tolling starts, Kentucky will begin analyzing traffic patterns and begin discussions with officials in those states.
“We will start with the neighboring states,” she said. “We will start with the states where we see the most traffic, so as part of the toll system we’ll know who is using our bridges the most and we’ll start there.”
She noted that commercial trucks with unpaid toll bills also can be identified during routine stops by Kentucky’s vehicle-enforcement officers. (Indiana’s regulations don't include such a provision.)
“Until they are paid, until they contact RiverLink and pay those tolls, they will not be allowed to continue on their way,” McLain said. “So this is a way we can level the playing field (and) make sure our in-state carriers are on a level playing field with out-of-state carriers.”
She said state motor vehicle enforcement officials and Vehicle Regulation Commissioner John-Mark Hack have had discussions about adding hours to the state’s weigh stations.
Kentucky’s proposed regulations also describe how drivers who disagree with toll bills can appeal. Comments on the regulations can be submitted through December 31 to McLain by email at email@example.com or by mail at Megan M. McLain, Assistant General Counsel, 200 Mero Street, Frankfort, Kentucky 40622.
The state must respond to the comments by January 15, 2017.
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