Early RiverLink problems cost Kentucky and Indiana at least $350,000, document shows
Even before tolling began, schedule changes and other unplanned work forced the two state governments to increase other contractors’ workload – at an estimated cost of at least $350,000, a letter shows.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Three weeks before the RiverLink toll bridges opened, top Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials sent a strongly-worded letter to the company operating the system with concerns that the project was behind schedule due to its "failure to comply with contractual deadlines."
In the December 9, 2016 letter, the state representatives also suggested that the operator, Kapsch TrafficCom, was to blame for an emerging chorus of complaints about accounts and transponders.
And as a result of “numerous unplanned activities and frequent schedule changes,” they told Kapsch President and CEO Chris Murray, the two state governments had been forced to increase other contractors’ workload – at an estimated cost of at least $350,000.
“These inconveniences have created negative public perception and a less than positive initial impression of RiverLink as a brand,” the letter said. It was signed by Clint Murphy, director of tolling oversight for the Indiana Department of Transportation, and Megan McLain, assistant general counsel for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
The document, obtained through a public records request, reveals the behind-the-scenes frustrations as the states were in the final stages of rolling out the all-electronic toll network for the Interstate 65 Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy bridges and the Lewis and Clark Bridge upriver from downtown Louisville.
At a meeting on November 30, the states’ tolling body hedged on when tolls would start. Despite a project years in the making, the decision-making board agreed only that RiverLink would go live once final tests were complete.
That same day, Kapsch told the states it would be ready to start tolling on December 19, but “current information from the testing team now indicates this schedule has slipped even further,” according to the letter. The states rejected the schedule; they wanted the system to be ready by December 7.
Besides alleging that Kapsch failed to meet deadlines, the states highlighted several customer service glitches, including “extensive delays” at walk-in centers in Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., and difficulties for drivers to make payments in person and online.
A Kapsch spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The letter also shows that the states had incurred additional costs, but it’s not known which companies received the bulk of the work or how much Kentucky and Indiana ultimately spent.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in April denied a request for documents detailing the additional public costs, saying “these exist only as preliminary communications currently under negotiation. Revealing these would potentially compromise our ability to collect reimbursement from Kapsch.”
WDRB News has appealed the denial to Kentucky General Andy Beshear’s office, which handles open records disputes.
McLain said in an interview that the total amount the states have paid to other contractors hasn’t been recalculated, but she said, “I imagine that it is higher” than $350,000. She said the extra expenses have not been recouped.
Kapsch previously had agreed to reimburse the states, according to the December 9 letter.
Some of the issues identified in December carried over even after tolling began. In January, it took an average of one hour and four minutes for a call center agent in Austin, Texas, to pick up a call. Only about 17 percent of calls were answered, according to an internal report provided by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet under an open records request.
State officials have yet to release other reports for subsequent months despite providing data for January on February 23. Mindy Peterson, a spokeswoman for RiverLink, said in late April that wait times had dropped sharply – to an average of about 10 minutes.
The Transportation Cabinet has said the additional reports – required as part of Kapsch’s contract – would be complete around May 3.