LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the spring of 2015, Kentucky and Indiana officials agreed to a series of measures meant to ease the burden of Ohio River bridge tolls on low-income drivers and minority communities.
The states’ six-member tolling body approved a plan that exempted Transit Authority of River City buses from tolls, added two walk-in customer service centers and required a “relatively low” balance of $20 to set up an account for the system now known as RiverLink.
As the start of tolling nears, the states have begun fulfilling some longstanding pledges. Indiana residents will be able to open RiverLink accounts at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ branch in Jeffersonville starting next week, the fourth location in the Louisville metro area where people can sign up in person.
Drivers also can buy prepaid RiverLink transponders at St. Stephen Church locations in Louisville and Jeffersonville, the Community Action of Southern Indiana office in Jeffersonville, TARC’s Louisville headquarters and the Louisville Urban League.
Officials believe establishing those sites helps meet a goal of having transponders in a “wide range” of places – a requirement of the mitigation plan signed off by the Federal Highway Administration.
But other promises will not be met by the time tolling starts sometime in December. The states had agreed to stock transponders in existing retail outlets, such as grocery stores, gas stations and markets, in or near low-income and minority neighborhoods. That isn’t expected to happen until sometime in early 2017.
“The biggest challenge was securing shelf space, especially during the holiday season,” said Mindy Peterson, a spokeswoman for RiverLink.
She said the deadline for landing RiverLink transponders in those stores was in early October. In order to meet that deadline, the toll system had to be developed and tested well before then, she said.
RiverLink, which includes the existing Interstate 65 Kennedy and the new Lincoln and eastern bridges, won’t have toll booths. Instead, cameras and other equipment near the bridges will record license plates or scan transponders on vehicles' windshields.
There are two types of transponders. Similar to an oil-change sticker, a free RiverLink transponder will attach to a windshield and can be used only on the Ohio River bridges. Another transponder that costs $15 will work on E-ZPass toll roads in 16 states; it can be ordered now.
Drivers without toll accounts -- linked either to the transponder or a license plate – will get a bill in the mail. Tolls range between $2 and $12 per crossing, with a $1 discount toll from frequent users.
Bridges project consultants identified downtown and western Louisville and parts of Jeffersonville and Charlestown, Ind., as areas with clusters of residents who would be disproportionately affected by tolls.
Dozens of Census “block groups” also qualify, including neighborhoods adjacent to I-65 between the Watterson Expressway and the Gene Snyder Freeway and near Dixie Highway and the Snyder.
On average, drivers from affected neighborhoods would see a 21 percent increase in cost per trip – compared with an 11 percent jump for drivers from other areas.
For full-time, low-income workers crossing the river on toll bridges, paying a $1 toll would result in out-of-pocket costs of $480 a year, according to project studies. A 2011 survey found that 36 percent of the area's low-income population, and 57 percent of minority residents, cross the river every weekday or several times each week.
The Clark Memorial Bridge and the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge won’t be tolled. The states agreed to erect signs in low-income and minority neighborhoods identifying routes to those non-tolled crossings.
Megan McLain, an attorney with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the signs have been ordered. Billboards advertising RiverLink also are now appearing in the area.
Louisville Gas & Electric had been approached about making transponders available at its office on Broadway, spokeswoman Liz Pratt said. But “within our fixed building space and with limited parking at our facility, we were unable to accommodate the request. We want to ensure we have sufficient parking and resources on hand for our utility customers,” she said.
Drivers can open a RiverLink account with cash, a credit or debit card, or check at these locations:
-RiverLink customer service center, 400 E. Main Street in Louisville
-RiverLink customer service center, Quartermaster Court in Jeffersonville
-NIA Center, 2900 W. Broadway in Louisville
-Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 2944 E. 10th Street in Jeffersonville (starting next week)
Drivers can buy $20, prepaid RiverLink transponders (for Louisville-area use only) at these locations, using exact change:
-St. Stephen Church, 1018 S. 15th Street in Louisville
-St. Stephens Church, 2701 Veterans Parkway in Jeffersonville
-Community Action of Southern Indiana, 1613 E. 8th Street in Jeffersonville
-TARC, Union Station, 1000 W. Broadway in Louisville
-Louisville Urban League, 1535 W. Broadway in Louisville
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