Members of the Louisville Metro Democratic Caucus are asking the public to voice their opinions on how tolls for the Ohio River Bridges Project will affect minority and low-income residents.
The public comment period is a federal requirement and project leaders say they’re considering ways to ease the tolling burden.
Tolls are expected to cost between $1-2 for average-sized vehicles and up to $10 for large tractor trailers. Tolling has been a controversial part of the Bridges Project, and some groups have even threatened lawsuits if tolls were included in the final project.
In 2011, the group “Say No to Bridge Tolls” campaigned against tolls and took partial credit for the project’s cost being cut by $1.2 billion.
A tolling committee is still putting together the final report and it needs public comment. Council members representing the west and southwest parts of Jefferson County want their residents’ voices heard and are encouraging residents to attend one of two public forums this week or to respond online or by mail.
Tolling will help pay for the $2.6 billion Bridges Project, which will create a new I-65 bridge, renovate the current Kennedy Bridge and build a new East End Bridge. When the project is completed in 2016 tolls will be collected on three of Louisville’s five bridges.
“There still seems to be some thought out there that there won’t be any way to get across the river between Louisville and Southern Indiana without having to pay a toll which is not correct,” says Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe.
Wolfe says the transportation department has already received several comments on the use of tolls to pay for the project, but he says he hopes the public will comment on ways to mitigate the costs of tolls that are already planned and have been approved by the federal government.
Council members Rick Blackwell, D-12, Attica Scott, D-1, David James, D-6 Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, and Cindi Fowler, D-14, were in attendance at the press conference Sunday, where the group encouraged low-income and minority residents to add their input.
“It’s going to impact them and the way they take care of their families,” James told WFPL.
James says he supports making the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) buses that will cross the bridges exempt from tolls. He also mentioned the idea of providing a tax or toll credit for low-income residents but that would require state legislation and a similar bill died in the General Assembly just this year.
In 2010, a Metro Council committee passed a resolution opposing tolls, according to this report by WHAS News. Twenty council members co-sponsored the ordinance. It’s unclear if the Metro Council will decide to pass any similar resolution during the remaining tolling process.
There will be an open house Monday night from 4-7 pm at the Clarksville Holliday Inn, and another one at the same time Tuesday evening at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage.