By BRADEN LAMMERS
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.
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.
An expected-cost analysis showed that tolling will more significantly affect that group.
According to the assessment, the regular population would see an 11 percent increase from $9.15 to $10.13 in costs per trip over the Ohio River. For minority and low-income groups, the increase was 21 percent from $6.75 to $8.16 per trip.
And according to the study and assessment, the targeted population use the bridges frequently.
“The study indicated that 36 percent of low-income populations and 57 percent of minority populations cross the Ohio River by car every weekday or several times per week,” according to the assessment.
The frequency of use, and the proposed toll rate, have a significant effect on the cost the population will have to pay to continue similar use.
Based on the calculation provided in the report of $1 each way — the frequent commuter rate — tolls would cost about $40 per month, or $480 annually. For a low-income individual — based on 2010 and 2011 Health and Human Services poverty threshold for annual income — that would total about 4 percent of the individual’s annual gross income.
The public is encouraged to comment on the assessment and proposed tactics to offset the burden on minorities and those earning a lower income.
A report and public input on the measures evaluated will be used by members of a bistate tolling body as they make decisions about tolling policy.
As part of the public input process, the states are also conducting interviews with representative samples of community leaders and residents in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Those responses, along with the input from open house meetings, comment forms and other methods, will be incorporated into a report that will be reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration and the bistate tolling body.
Comments can be made online at kyindbridges.com. The full report is also online at the same website.