SALEM, Ind. (WDRB) – William Dickey admits he was surprised to get a bill in the mail in May 2017 for crossing a new Ohio River toll bridge.
The invoice claimed his wife owed $7 for driving a Budget truck between Louisville and Southern Indiana on the Interstate 65 Abraham Lincoln Bridge, using the cashless toll system known as RiverLink.
But that wasn’t possible: Patricia Dickey died of cancer in 2013.
“She didn’t even know the bridge had been built,” William Dickey said.
He said he called RiverLink customer service representatives and even offered to fax a copy of his wife’s death certificate, but his proposal wasn’t accepted. The bills kept coming.
“I called them again,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to pay this. There’s no way I’m paying for something that’s impossible to happen.’”
RiverLink late notices and penalties piled up. Ultimately, toll officials sent a collections notice last November seeking to recoup $58 in unpaid tolls and late fees.
Dickey didn’t pay. Instead, late last year he filed a lawsuit against Budget and RiverLink, whose customer service and billing operations are run by Municipal Services Bureau of Austin, Texas, under a contract administered by Kentucky and Indiana state governments.
The small claims suit in Washington County, Indiana appears to be the only legal action taken in response to a billing dispute since tolls began in late 2016, according to a WDRB News review of federal and state court records in Kentucky and Indiana.
Tolls were added to three bridges between Louisville and Clark County, Indiana – the I-65 Lincoln and Kennedy bridges, and the upriver Lewis and Clark Bridge – as a way to help pay for the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Rather than using toll booths, operators charge drivers based on photos of license plates and in-car transponders.
The first year of tolls in 2017 was marked by sporadic complaints about delays for drivers calling RiverLink’s customer service center and cases of improper billing, such as when 13,000 drivers were mailed late fees last fall they didn’t owe.
Dickey said he was frustrated during several hours of phone conversations with RiverLink and Budget representatives. He sued for $5,000, an amount he told WDRB was compensation “for mental anguish and stuff they put me through at Christmastime and everything.”
“Christmas is kind of the hardest part of the year after losing my wife. … I was just kind of aggravated and upset,” he said in an interview this week.
Representatives of RiverLink and Budget received the lawsuit but did not respond to the complaint or appear at hearings in the case, according to court records.
On April 9, Washington Superior Court Judge Frank Newkirk Jr., issued default judgments and ordered RiverLink and Budget each to pay Dickey $607 in damages and court costs. Court records show no payment has been made.
So Dickey went back to court in late July and filed a motion asking the judge to order the two entities to appear in court and explain why they haven’t paid. A hearing is set for August 27.
The toll collection contract is managed by a four-person group of top Kentucky and Indiana officials called the “joint board.” It includes Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas and Kentucky Finance and Administration Secretary William Landrum; and Indiana Public Finance Director Dan Huge and Tony McClellan of the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Members of the joint board have not responded to requests for comment made at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Budget has not answered questions sent by email at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
While RiverLink officials have not responded to the lawsuit or paid the judgment, one more piece of toll-related mail did arrive at Dickey’s house.
On Jan. 2, a week after Dickey sued, his late wife received a letter saying the billing dispute had been resolved and no payment was due.
It concluded: “Thank you for choosing RiverLink.”