RiverLink meets toll collection goals in first year, officials s - WDRB 41 Louisville News

RiverLink meets toll collection goals in first year, officials say

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JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) – The RiverLink toll network met its revenue goals during the first year of charging drivers to cross three Ohio River bridges, according to figures released Friday.

Kentucky and Indiana took in and evenly split $80 million in 2017, exceeding projections of about $75.6 million in part due to more traffic than expected, said Megan McLain, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s innovative finance manager.

Tolls began in late 2016 on the Interstate 65 Kennedy and Lincoln bridges, and the upriver Lewis and Clark span. Drivers are charged $2 to $12 to cross, depending on the vehicle and type of RiverLink account.

On average, the data show, nearly 82,000 vehicles crossed the toll bridges each day last year. In the years to come, projections anticipate sharply higher traffic volumes – 110,508 this year, 117,329 in 2023 and 131,991 in 2030, for example.

Those estimates were included in a traffic study that also predicts toll revenues will continue to climb steadily. Each state uses that money to pay off project debt and fund operating costs of the toll bridges.

Officials with both states say they expect traffic to increase as a result of economic conditions and drivers getting used to the Lewis and Clark, which unlike the downtown toll bridges is an entirely new crossriver route.

McLain said it’s “standard” to expect more vehicles using the eastern bridge during its second year.

“It’s not unusual for a traffic and revenue study to predict that it will take a little bit over a year for customers and drivers to get used to using that new route and thinking of it as an option,” she said.

Scott Adams, tolling director for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said there is nothing to suggest RiverLink won’t meet the traffic projections.

“I think you’re continuing to see national as well as regional economic growth that’s going to contribute to higher traffic numbers,” he said. “So as the economy expands, I think you’re going to see more drivers take to the roads. So at this point in time we’re very optimistic that those projections can be met.”

More drivers also were crossing the river with prepaid transponders -- 63 percent during the final three months of the year, compared with 56 percent from January through March.

And there were about 150,000 RiverLink accounts from October through December – a 10 percent increase from the summer months.

For the toll roads’ second year, Adams said the focus is on customer service. A series of customer service and billing frustrations marked the initial year of tolling, including drivers who were sent incorrect bills with late fees that weren’t owed.

“Anyone who’s started a business understands that the first year of operations is probably the most challenging. You learn a lot about your internal systems and how they operate,” he said. “You also learn about the needs of your customers. So, year one is all about learning how RiverLink engages with its customer base. Year two is about tweaking and improving that system to make the experience much … better.”

In an effort to lower call wait times, call centers in Texas and Muncie, Ind., have added staff and by mid-February should have nearly 100 people answering phones, Adams said.

Those wait times have dropped, with the average time to answer at 4 minutes and 21 seconds in January. The goal is less than one minute.

RiverLink also plans to let drivers who now receive bills in the mail to set up an account with a transponder and have the higher toll rate “converted” to the lower transponder rate. That option will start soon at riverlink.com, officials said.

And a “pay by plate” option that will let drivers without an account pay outstanding tolls online, rather than by mail, is expected to be ready this summer.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

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