Toll gantry

A toll gantry on the RiverLink bridges.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the fourth time in five years, Kentucky and Indiana are switching their main adviser for the RiverLink toll system.

The states’ top oversight panel, the Kentucky-Indiana Joint Board, voted 3-0 at a meeting in Louisville on Tuesday to hire HNTB Corp. as toll services adviser, a position that includes supervising the work of RiverLink’s toll operator and collector, Kapsch TrafficCom.

HNTB replaces Parsons Transportation Group, which had been the states’ liaison to Kapsch since before tolls began in late 2016. The states have agreed to pay HNTB up to $2.2 million over the next six months, although the five-year contract is unclear about payments after that point.

No members of the joint board who attended the Tuesday meeting -- Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas, Indiana Public Finance Director Dan Huge and Indiana Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness -- discussed the terms of the contract. 

The Indiana Finance Authority oversees the contract on behalf of both states, which split the costs. Authority spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that HNTB will propose new financial terms once it completes an overall assessment of RiverLink and a long-term plan for the toll system in the next six months.

Toll revenue from drivers crossing the Ohio River toll bridges between Louisville and Clark County, Ind., cover the cost of the consultants' work. 

By comparison, Parsons was getting paid up to $814,000 during its six-month contract that expires at the end of this month. The states paid the firm up to $969,000 for its work from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, documents show.

Megan McLain, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s innovative finance manager, said HNTB is involved in other toll road projects, including working as an adviser on toll roads in Louisiana and Oklahoma.

"We're excited to work with them, get a new perspective on things like different collection methodologies, different policy decisions we can make to make things run better," she said in an interview. "It's always good to get a new opinion on those things." 

Also meeting in Louisville was a toll policy-making panel, the Kentucky-Indiana Tolling Body, which approved changes to RiverLink rules. Among them was reducing the hours of walk-in customer service centers in Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., and call centers in Texas, Puerto Rico and Muncie, Ind.

Those operations are now open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Starting next summer, the Saturday hours will be eliminated, and the weekdays hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

McLain said she doesn't expect reducing the current hours will affect drivers seeking help with their bills. She noted that RiverLink customers still can go online.

"If you're not able to talk to somebody during business hours, you can also correspond via email, and our email response times are under a day at the moment," she said.

While arguably one of the most important contractors on the toll bridge project, the states' adviser has rotated among several companies since Computer Aid Inc. was initially chosen in 2013.

In 2014, the joint board replaced Computer Aid with Parsons in a temporary role after officials found a possible conflict of interest involving a Computer Aid employee whose husband worked for a Kapsch subcontractor.

The states then hired the eTrans Group in early 2015. But by the spring they had fired the firm, claiming it didn’t meet its contract expectations, and named Parsons once again as the adviser.

Kentucky and Indiana later settled a lawsuit brought by eTrans for $650,000.

Parsons, which had done other work for Indiana on the Ohio River Bridges Project, has been the adviser since then, but in October the Indiana Finance Authority put out new bids for the work.

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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Marcus Green joined WDRB News in 2013 after 12 years as a staff writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He reports on transportation and local and state government.