Despite new bridges, traffic crossing Ohio River yet to return t - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Despite new bridges, traffic crossing Ohio River yet to return to pre-construction levels

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky and Indiana spent $2.3 billion to build two new Ohio River bridges, untangle the Spaghetti Junction interchange in Louisville and strengthen the Kennedy Bridge. 

They are paying a contractor $41.5 million to operate the all-electronic RiverLink toll bridge network that is expected to bring in more than $8 billion over the next four decades. 

But despite those investments, there are fewer vehicles crossing the Ohio than before construction began on the bridges, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. 

"We are not seeing that there is an increased number of traffic crossings across the river than there were before the project started -- yet," said Megan McLain, the cabinet’s assistant general counsel.

In 2012, the year before work on the project began, about 224,000 vehicles used three bridges between Louisville and Clark and Floyd counties in Southern Indiana each day. There are now five spans across the river; two of them, the Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges, are toll-free.

McLain did not immediately have an exact number of all river crossings. But by next year, a consultant has estimated there will be more than 250,000 vehicles crossing the river each day.  

In remarks to reporters after Tuesday’s meeting of the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority in Frankfort, McLain predicted that traffic levels will rise as drivers adjust to tolling.

“We expect to continue to increase for the next year and surpass that number, but it’s only been a few months and it does take people a while to get used to the new routes available,” she said.

A study looking at whether more vehicles are using the toll-free bridges is expected to be completed next year after RiverLink’s first full year, McLain told authority board members at its first meeting since tolling started in late December. (A quorum of members was not present.)

“I have not heard any reports of increased traffic on the non-tolled routes,” McLain said.

The tolling network’s first few months have been marked by some complaints about customer service, including long wait times that at one point averaged more than an hour for people calling RiverLink’s Texas call center. Those average times have been lowered to about 10 minutes, according to a RiverLink spokeswoman.

In addition, RiverLink is on pace to collect $33 million for the first six months of 2017 and meet previous revenue projections, according to data released last week.

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