MADISON, Ind. (AP) — Business leaders along the Ohio River are urging officials in Indiana and Kentucky to delay the collection of tolls along the river’s new bridges until the project is complete in late 2016.
Leaders of One Southern Indiana and Greater Louisville Inc. say starting the tolls in April as planned could strain area businesses. They want the Indiana Finance Authority to weigh the effects the early tolls will have on different types of companies.
The Courier-Journal reports that Ohio River Bridges Project officials are expected to begin negotiating with a toll systems provider soon. The request for proposals notes that a new downtown Louisville bridge will open in April 2016, while the East End Bridge will be “substantially complete and open to traffic” in October 2016.
Though details of the tolling policies are still being worked out, officials say the bridges will not feature toll booths. Instead, electronic tolls will be billed to people who set up pre-paid accounts or bills will be mailed to the owners of vehicles whose license plates are photographed as they cross the Kennedy bridge and two others, including one linking southern Indiana to Kentucky.
The tolling body in September approved initial rates that range from $1 to $12 per trip depending on the type of vehicle and frequency of use. More frequent users would be eligible for discounts, while drivers who don’t use transponders will face higher rates.
One Southern Indiana wants state leaders to pursue toll credits for high-frequency users and exemptions for public and tour buses. It also wants to bar the collection of tolls until work on all three bridges is complete, according to a letter it recently sent to the Indiana Finance Authority.
It also recommends restricting lanes on the Clark Memorial Bridge to southbound only during morning commutes and northbound only during afternoon commutes to help keep traffic flowing., Another suggestion calls for classifying trucks with fewer than five axles as mid-level trucks to reduce the tolling costs for construction and hauling companies.
Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of One Southern Indiana, said one of its members has multi-axle trailers that cross the bridges about 1,000 times a week, meaning it would need to add more than $500,000 a year to its bottom line to make up for tolls.
“It’s a complicated issue that we want to work through with our members and everyone in the community,” Dant Chesser said.
Indiana state Sen. Ron Grooms of Jeffersonville said he supports One Southern Indiana’s efforts to keep the discussion on tolls open.
Grooms said changing tolling policies could affect the states’ abilities to pay off the debt from the project. But he said it’s worth further discussion to ease the burden on companies that will use the bridges frequently to move goods and services.
Both states must sign off on tolling policy changes before they could take effect.