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More Details On How Tolls Will Work On The Downtown Bridges

Ohio River Bridges Project

By the end of 2016, motorists traveling across the Ohio River on Interstate 65 will be paying tolls.

The discussions over tolls on the Kennedy Bridge and the unnamed downtown crossing have been in the works for years. Those discussions are beginning to coalesce into full-fledged plans. On Tuesday, transportation officials from Kentucky and Indiana shared some of the details of the tolling system at an invite-only briefing in downtown Louisville.

Unlike more traditional tolls, the electronic tolling system planned for the bridges won't require motorists to stop, fish for loose change or bills and pay an actual person, transportation officials said.

As motorists cross the bridges, an overhead sensor will identify passing vehicles by the license plate or transponder.

Motorists will have three options for paying tolls on the new bridge system. The cheapest will be to purchase a transponder and set up a prepaid account, said David Talley, the innovative finance manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. With a transponder, the funds will be automatically deducted from motorists' accounts as they cross the bridge.

Two types of transponders will be available. One will be a sticker placed inside the vehicles front windshield, he said. The stickers won't be transferable between vehicles, Talley said.

He said residents seeking a sticker-style transponder will get the first one for free.

An electronic transponder device is also expected to be available for motorists at a cost of about $15, Talley said.

The electronic transponder device will be transferable between vehicles and can be used in 15 states, Talley said. Last month, WDRB reported that Kentucky's bid to join the EZ Pass network had been rejected. Talley said he expects that decision to be reversed in the coming weeks.

Motorists can also set up a prepaid account sans transponder, which will allow tolls to be automatically deducted once sensors detect a specific license plate, Talley said.

"However, it won't be the best price you can get," he added.

A minimum of $20 will be needed to open an account, Talley said.

A third payment option will be to have no prepaid account and be sent a bill via mail once a sensor detects your license plate, Talley said.

Frequent users with transponders will pay $1 to $10 to cross the bridge system, depending on vehicle size and use. Motorists with prepaid accounts, but no transponders, will pay up to $11 for each crossing. Those with no account will pay up to $12 to cross.

Failure to pay a toll could result in state agencies withholding vehicle registration, Talley said.

The Sherman-Minton Bridge and the Clark Memorial Bridge will not be tolled, officials said.

"People will have options," Talley said.

Also, TARC buses will not have to pay the toll, he said.

With a year to go, there are still more questions about the tolling plan. The exact definition of what a frequent user is has not yet been set. That definition and other more specific details, such as what constitutes an emergency vehicle, are expected to be finalized in the coming months.

The bridges will be tolled at least until 2053, Talley said. The last time tolls were active in the Louisville Metro area was in 1946, said a spokeswoman for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Transportation officials in Indiana and Kentucky will begin a marketing campaign on the tolling system around spring 2016. A website that will offer options to set up and monitor tolling accounts will launch in mid-2016. The tolling system is being branded as RiverLink.

Transponders will be available for purchase in May. Exact locations where they can be purchased have not yet been set.

The new downtown bridge is expected to open before Christmas, but the Kennedy Bridge will close for months of renovation work. Tolls will not be collected until after the Kennedy work is completed late next year.

The entire Ohio River Bridges Project, including the new East End span, is expected to cost $2.6 billion.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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