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August 28, 2013

Traffic tie-ups won’t be caused by bridge tolls

All-electronic technology will scan transponders, license plates

LOUISVILLE — It won’t be painless, but at least it will be quick.

Officials with the Ohio River Bridges Project unveiled their proposal on Tuesday for charging tolls to vehicles as they cross the region’s bridges spanning the Ohio River.

Instead of utilizing tolling plazas that require employees to collect cash from vehicles, the bridges will utilize tolling gantries built on the bridge structure, which will rely on electronic transponders and video cameras. That means vehicles won’t have to stop to pay tolls. Bridges Project officials want to dispel misconceptions about how tolling will work.

“It doesn’t make sense to [members of the public], if the purpose of the bridges is to make it easier to get across the river, especially on I-65 which has terrible congestion problems at peak travel times, why you would want to slow traffic up to have people pay a toll collector,” Chuck Wolfe, executive director of public affairs with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said at a news conference. “The answer to that is, we don’t and we won’t. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Officials are pursuing all-electronic tolling because it is less expensive to implement and operate than a cash-collection model, said David Talley, deputy executive director of the transportation cabinet’s Office of Budget & Fiscal Management.

“Systems that collect cash are more expensive than those that don’t,” Talley said.

Passenger vehicles belonging to “frequent commuters” will be issued electronic transponders. Frequent commuters will be able to pre-pay into an account from which tolls will be automatically deducted when the vehicle passes through a gantry. Vehicles without the transponders will be billed at the address to which the vehicle is registered, which will be determined by the license plate number.

Tolling rates are currently undetermined, but are expected to be set at a Sept. 5 meeting of the Ohio River Bridges Project Tolling Body. Target rates discussed at Tuesday’s meeting call for a $1 charge for frequent commuters, $2 for passenger vehicles without transponders, $5 for box trucks and panel vans, and $10 for semi-trucks and tractor-trailers.

What defines a “frequent commuter” is not yet known.

“The states plan to offer a discount to frequent users of the tolled bridges,” according to a Bridges Project news release. “The number of trips to earn the discount will be established later by the Tolling Body; however, the states are targeting $1 per crossing at the cost for motorists who meet this standard.”

Initial setup fees for transponders have not been determined either, officials said. The states are considering low-cost or no-cost transponders.

“We hope to drive as many people as possible who are going to use the new and improved bridges on a regular basis to go the transponder route,” Wolfe said. “Any toll transaction has a cost for processing. This is the easiest and least costly way of paying your toll, of having your toll processed.”

Once the bridges are fully operational and transponders have been fully implemented, about 80 percent of traffic on the bridges will be transponder-equipped vehicles, estimated Clint Murphy, director of tolling operations with the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Vehicles without transponders could also lower their cost per crossing by setting up accounts with the Tolling Body. Vehicles without accounts nor transponders would be charged the highest amount per crossing.

The all-electronic tolling model is being implemented in other parts of the country, with several existing toll roads in the process of converting from toll plazas to gantries. Officials from Indiana and Kentucky visited North Carolina earlier this year to study their system, which is one of the newest all-electronic tolling systems in the country, according to an Ohio River Bridges Project release.

 

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