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June 29, 2013

Bridges officials seek ways to mitigate hit to minority, low-income population

The Ohio River Bridges Project is accepting public comment to determine what, if any, relief on tolls will be given to low-income and minority populations in the region.

Tolling will cover a funding gap to pay for the construction and maintenance to construct a new downtown bridge, east-end bridge and reconstruct Spaghetti Junction. As part of the preconstruction process, an impact study showed that tolling the bridges would disproportionately affect minority and low-income groups.

As a result, the states are collecting input on how to mitigate the disproportionate financial strain placed on those populations.

TOLLING PLAN

The tentative plan for tolling will place electronic tolls on both Interstate 65 bridges — a new northbound bridge being constructed and the existing Kennedy Bridge which will be come a southbound only bridge — and the east-end bridge. The Interstate 64 Sherman Minton Bridge and the Clark Memorial Bridge will remain untolled.

Rates for the tolls on the bridges have not been finalized, but Indiana and Kentucky have been operating off of a model that would set tolling figures at $1 each way for frequent commuters; $2 per crossing for other passenger vehicles; $5 each way for panel or box trucks; and $10 per crossing for semi-trucks.

Several steps were taken by the bridge planners to try and limit the cost passed onto bridge commuters. Among those efforts was $20 million provided to Transit Authority of River City to help enhance public transportation and mitigate the effects of tolling. In addition, the idea has been floated to offer transponders to commuters for free.

“The states are committed to making transponder usage as widespread as possible and intend ... to provide local toll system transponders to users at no cost, thereby maximizing users ability to avoid the higher ‘video rate’ and take advantage of the lower toll rates available to transponder users,” according to a bridges project assessment document.

While the plan is to tentatively provide transponders to all income groups, the greater impact is expected to be felt among the low-income groups.

“Providing free transponders would render a proportionately greater benefit to low-income populations, as the money saved on the transponder purchase by low-income people would be a higher percentage of their income,” according to the assessment.

Other considerations related to transponders was to make them widely available and distributing transponders through retailers or government offices, or developing a website or smart phone app to provide ease of access.

What was considered, but will likely not be adopted, is offering discounted tolls to minority and low-income residents.

“From a system-management perspective, the implementation of reduced tolls for specific segments of the population would be a significant administrative and enforcement challenge,” according to the assessment.

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