A joint committee has unanimously approved toll rates for the Ohio River Bridges Project after years of research and debate.
Kentucky and Indiana officials have maintained tolls must be used to pay off the project’s costs to build a new East End and downtown I-65 bridge and to rework Spaghetti Junction.
Opposition to tolling has been met with equal force by bridge officials who haven’t backed down to business owners and residents who say tolling will disproportionately affect certain Indiana businesses and minority and low-income commuters.
When the bridges open, commuters will pay between $1 to $12 depending on vehicle size and how they cross. The rates were suggested through a recently released traffic and revenue study. All tolling will be done electronically and won’t require motorists to stop at booth.
The cheapest way to commute will be to use a transponder device that automatically records when the car passes.
Drivers can also register their vehicle, which will incur higher costs, or just pass through and allow video to capture the license plate and send an invoice via mail.
Here’ a breakdown of the costs, depending on the circumstances:
The bridges will also offer a frequent user discount for commuters who use the bridge often, but the states have not yet defined who a “frequent user” is. Further, officials say they haven’t decided whether the transponder device will cost commuters. Prices for transponder devices in other states have ranged from under $1 to around $20, says David Talley, deputy executive budget director at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Kentucky would like to see transponders given away for free, he says.
Despite opposition from many throughout the development, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock says public opinion has helped form the project.
“How we apply that, how we put that into use isn’t’ always obvious but I can assure you that behind the scenes there have been decisions made that have yielded benefits that the public pushed for,” he says.
Hancock points to the creation of the frequent user program as proof.
But for some, like Chris Jones who owns J and J Pallet Corporation in Indiana, the approved tolling structure will have a large impact on how business is done.
“We’ve ran the numbers and made some comments at some of the prior meetings and we felt like it went on deaf ears,” he says. “It’ll give us a distinct disadvantage over our competition.”
Jones says a majority of his transports cross the Ohio River and the approved tolling structure will cost his company around $140,000 a year.
Hancock says the truck rates are comparable to national averages and the tolling structure is necessary to generate the revenue necessary to pay for the project.
Officials say tolls are expected to increase for inflation by around 2.5 percent annually but the tolling body reserves the right to increase tolls at any time depending on the project’s needs.