LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The board that oversees the RiverLink toll system plans to meet Tuesday for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused traffic declines on the Ohio River spans.
From mid-March to mid-June, river crossings on the toll bridges dropped by about 39% compared to the same period in 2019, data show. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in March issued stay-at-home orders and other restrictions meant to curb the coronavirus illness.
Kentucky and Indiana split toll revenue generated by crossings on the Interstate 65 Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy bridges between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the Lewis and Clark Bridge between Prospect, Kentucky, and Utica, Indiana. The money is used for purposes including paying off construction debt.
The Kentucky-Indiana Joint Board on Tuesday plans to consider a resolution on procuring a new toll system operator. Kapsch TrafficCom’s contract runs through 2023, but Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's innovative finance manager said last summer that the states planned to seek new proposals for the role this year.
Tuesday's agenda doesn’t include a discussion about the pandemic’s effect on RiverLink, although the four-person board could address it. The public can watch the meeting by clicking here.
The board includes the top appointed finance and transportation officials in both states. Its current members are Beshear’s finance secretary, Holly McCoy-Johnson, and Transportation Secretary Jim Gray; and Indiana Public Finance Director Dan Huge and Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness.
As COVID-19 measures rolled out in March, the states took in $8.45 million in tolling revenue, or about 7% less than during the same month the year before. The drop-off was steeper in April, with revenues of $6.47 million, a 33% decline from April 2019. WDRB News has requested May data.
It's now likely that RiverLink won’t meet its revenue goals for the first time since opening in early 2017. A consultant had predicted about $108.4 million in toll collections during the current fiscal year that ends in June, but with two months left, revenues stand at $88.6 million.
The toll system’s revenues don’t include millions of dollars that RiverLink operators began setting aside last summer for driver refunds, internal reports show.
Kapsch earmarked $50,000 per day starting in late July for the rebates, according to documents obtained in open records requests.
RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson confirmed in February that a refund program is being developed and said Kapsch stopped putting money into it in mid-October. Based on that timeline, more than $4 million would have been amassed.
In all, RiverLink revenues from July 2019 through February of this year were essentially flat compared to the same period in 2018-19.
In April, a Kentucky consultant said the state has 12 months of debt payments in a reserve account.
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