Tolling begins on the Lewis and Clark, Lincoln and Kennedy bridges
After years of construction, all the bridges are open and charging those driving between Kentucky and Indiana.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- All-electronic tolling began Friday morning on the Lewis and Clark, Kennedy and Lincoln bridges, ushering in a new era of paying to cross the Ohio River on Interstate 65 and a new upriver connection.
During the first 12 hours of tolling, more than 52,000 vehicles crossed the three toll bridges in the RiverLink system, officials said. In all, roughly 110,000 drivers are expected to use the crossings each day.
Even after tolling began, people were waiting to set up accounts at RiverLink customer service centers on both sides of the river on Friday. With no toll booths, RiverLink deploys cameras and sensors to assess tolls using transponders mounted inside cars or by tracking license plates.
Drivers can get the cheapest rate -- $2 per crossing -- by having a transponder. The devices also ensure the most accurate way to collect tolls, which Indiana and Kentucky use to pay off debt on the $2.3 billion project.
Nearly 40 percent of the vehicles that crossed the toll bridges from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday had a transponder -- either the RiverLink version that works only on the Louisville-area bridges or an E-ZPass transponder that also can be used in other states.
Spokesperson Mindy Peterson says RiverLink was pleased with the number of vehicles using transponders.
“I think that is a great start for us to be day one of a brand new tolling system, especially when you’re talking about an area where we have never had all-electronic tolling," she said.
Officials cautioned that the opening day figures -- on the Friday between Christmas and New Year's Eve -- likely don't represent a routine traffic patterns.
By 2018, 65 percent of all trips across the toll bridges are expected to use a transponder, rising to 80 percent by 2030, according to estimates by Steer Davies Gleave, a consultant hired by the states.
On Friday, officials said it was smooth sailing.
"We've seen transponders crossing the river, we've seen those without transponders crossing the river, and it's all working pretty well," said Megan McLain, a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet attorney.
Customers at the Jeffersonville office experienced between an hour and two hour wait, while lines in Louisville were shorter.
On the phone, you could wait up to 20 minutes. You can also register on RiverLink.com. The website takes 24-48 hours to process your account.
All tolling is electronic, so there's no need to stop, slow down or look for a toll booth.
"Keep going with traffic," Peterson said. "You don't need to do anything. You have the transponder. The toll comes right out of your RiverLink account."
If you have a transponder in a passenger vehicle, it'll cost you $2 to cross one of the tolled bridges. If you don't have one, it'll cost you $4. Just make sure the transponder is mounted on your vehicle and ready to go.
"They're inside the windshield, close to the rear view mirror, as high and as central as possible," Peterson said.
If you ordered a transponder and haven't received it yet, officials say it is on the way. And you'll still be able to pay the lower rate until the transponder arrives.
As far as what to expect in the new year when everyone heads back to work, "We might see a little more traffic diversion," McLain said.
Traffic is expected to rise sharply in the coming decades on the toll-free Sherman Minton Bridge that carries Interstate 64. By 2030, an estimated 121,000 vehicles will use the 54-year-old Minton each day – an increase of 38 percent from current levels– while the I-65 bridges are set to see less traffic than they did before tolling started.
With tolls on the Interstate 65 corridor, analysts predict drivers will start using the Clark Memorial Bridge in increasing numbers.
The Clark already handles the amount of traffic for which it was built in 1929 and is considered “functionally obsolete” because its design is out of date. By 2030, however, as many as 32,000 cars and trucks are expected to cross the bridge daily – a nearly 72 percent increase from before the bridges project started.
"Right now, the Second Street Bridge and I-64 are moving pretty smoothly," McLain said. "We might see a little more traffic on the non-tolled routes, but we expect it to go smoothly."
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