RiverLink hosting Twitter chat Thursday to answer drivers' questions

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Drivers will have roughly two months to challenge tolls believed to be charged incorrectly on Ohio River bridges, under rules approved Friday by a state transportation panel.

The Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority is asking that Gov. Matt Bevin sign a “statement of emergency” and make the regulations effective in November – one month before tolls are to start on three spans between Louisville and Clark County, Ind.

Without toll booths, cameras and scanners will record license plates, read transponders on vehicles' windshields and determine a vehicle’s size. Drivers without toll accounts -- linked either to the transponder or a license plate – will get a bill in the mail.

But the all-electronic system called RiverLink raises the possibility of mistakes, such as crossings that never happen or two-axle cars charged at a higher rate. The regulations passed Friday explain how a driver can appeal any erroneous tolls.

First, within 60 days of getting a bill or having an account charged, a driver must contact RiverLink and file a “written protest.” Project officials say they expect the appeal can be done online at www.riverlink.com.

The disputed invoice or account statement must be provided, and a toll charge only can be challenged if a license plate was not identified correctly; the license plate photo and vehicle tolled don’t match; the vehicle has been sold, transferred or stolen; the vehicle was not classified correctly; or the person billed doesn’t own the vehicle tolled.

RiverLink, which is operated by Virginia-based Kapsch TrafficCom, then will decide whether the toll stands and notify the driver by mail. If the charge is upheld – and the driver agrees – he or she would have 10 days to pay.

But if the person challenging the toll disagrees with the Kapsch ruling, the next step is deciding within 30 days whether to ask the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority, or KPTIA, for an administrative hearing. A hearing officer would then decide the case.

“We’ll just set up a hearing with that person,” said Megan McLain, an attorney for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “They don’t have to be represented by counsel. It’s pretty informal. We’ve got hearing rooms set up in Indiana and Louisville, so they don’t have to travel to Frankfort.”

The hearing officer’s decision would go to the KPTIA chairman, who has the final say. Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas is the panel’s current chairman.

Fines for unpaid tolls would not increase or be assessed while a driver is appealing.

Kentucky and Indiana have laws in place allowing state governments to withhold the annual registration of vehicles with violations until the outstanding tolls and fees are paid.

Officials have set penalties of at least $25 for drivers who don’t pay tolls over a two-month period and $55 after three months. A $5 late fee will start with the second invoice.

The states also agreed to “enhanced enforcement” for the most chronic offenders -- those who rack up $250 in tolls and fees.

That enforcement could include lawsuits and “instructions or requests to state police departments to stop and detain these individuals,” according to the toll policy agreement approved earlier this year.

The regulations approved Friday also allow the state’s vehicle enforcement officers and inspectors to pull over drivers of tractor trailers that have past due tolls, McLain said. That provision, she said, is “an effort to make sure that out-of-state drivers are required to pay their fair share.”

Those drivers could be prohibited from continuing on until the unpaid toll bills are made whole. She said the individual officer would have discretion in each case – such as when a large truck is stopped on the shoulder of an interstate.

In most cases, she said, toll violations would be discovered when a truck stops at a weigh station.

A truck driver would have to pay Kapsch over the phone or online to keep traveling. “That flag would be removed in a very short period of time and you’ll be allowed to move on your way,” she said.

The American Trucking Associations is not aware of any other states with similar rules, spokesman Sean McNally said in a statement. 

"Typically, out-of-service violations are prescribed by the federal government and are related to safety regulations, rather than non-payment of tolls," he said.

Kentucky officials say there will be public hearings on the emergency regulation, but no date has been finalized. Indiana is expected to have similar regulations.

The states also expect to sign reciprocal agreements with states outside the region; in those states, drivers could have their registration withheld until they pay.

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