Several residents say more needs to be done before the Ohio River Bridges Project finalizes its tolling plan and many have expressed concern this week that low-income commuters will be disproportionately affected by crossing the bridges.
“People raise legitimate questions and make legitimate points and [those] will be taken into consideration,” said Kentucky Transportation Department spokesman Chuck Wolfe at the second public forum offered this week by the Ohio River Bridges Project.
The project was required to analyze the affects of tolling on low-income and minority commuters.
The analysis shows tolling the East End Bridge, the new I-65 bridge and the current Kennedy Bridge would disproportionately affect low-income commuters.
For a frequent commuter who crosses the bridge twice a day the monthly cost would be $40 a month—or $480 annually—under the current toll structure. The analysis says this would equate to around 4 percent of a low-income person’s annual income.
Conversely, for the average income earner, tolls would be around 2 percent of a frequent commuter’s annual budget.
Officials say the Sherman Minton Bridge and the Clark Memorial Bridge will still be free, which means tolls would be on three of Louisville’s five bridges.
Tolls—which have been a controversial part of the $2.6 billion Bridges Project—have not been finalized, but are expected to cost frequent commuters $1 to cross once, and other average sized vehicles $2. Larger vehicles could cost as much as $10.
But there are still plenty of details to work out, like defining what a “frequent commuter” looks like and whether certain drivers could be exempt from tolls.
Nolan Starks owns a medical transport business and says he has several vans that cross multiple time a day.
“Am I supposed to pay each time or am I going to be granted some kind of waiver?” he says.
Another idea that has been discussed is whether public transit (TARC) buses should be exempt from tolls. The project has already dedicated $20 million to improve TARC facilities, but some have questioned whether tolls will mean increased fare.
There is no rigid timeline for when tolls need to be finalized, but it’ll likely happen before the end of the year so Kentucky could begin issuing bonds, Wolfe says.
Among the mitigation recommendations for consideration are:
- Providing free transponders to maximize use and keep costs low
- Distributing transponders through retailers, such as grocery stores and markets; motor vehicle licensing offices; and other government offices convenient for low-income and minority populations
- Establishing “toll operations offices” within low-income and minority communities to allow people to directly and conveniently manage their accounts. These locations could include a mobile site, like a “bookmobile.”
- Developing a Web site and/or smart phone mobile app, so users can order transponders online and have them shipped directly to their homes or businesses.
- Establishing a relatively low minimum balance
- Allowing a wide range of options for replenishment of funds in a user’s account, including cash, credit/debit cards, money orders, bank transfers, online payments and a smart phone mobile app
- Allowing multiple users/transponders to be funded under a single account
- Establishing brick-and-mortar locations, such as government buildings, DMV locations and grocery stores, as examples, with particular emphasis on low-income areas and minority neighborhoods, for individuals to replenish or make deposits to tolling accounts. Likewise, a mobile source, like a “bookmobile,” could be used to improve convenience.
- Developing a Web site that would allow for the management of accounts online.