By Josh Abelove | WLKY News

East End Bridge | Photo courtesy of WLKY

The end of construction on the new bridges is cause for celebration, right?

Maybe not if you live in Southern Indiana or travel across the Ohio River frequently. Chances are by now you’ve heard about RiverLink, the all-electronic system that will be used to collect tolls each time you cross one of three bridges connecting metro Louisville to Indiana: the Abraham Lincoln Bridge (I-65 North), the John F. Kennedy Bridge (I-65 South), and the Lewis and Clark Bridge (connecting the Gene Snyder Freeway to State Road 265).

The start date for tolling is Friday, but first WLKY answers the top questions you may have about the system, how it works, and how it will impact you financially.

How do I sign up for a RiverLink account?

There are three ways for drivers to create a personal account. When I signed up, I used RiverLink.com. It only took a matter of minutes, so if you have computer access, this may be the most convenient method. You can also call 1-855-RIV-LINK.

If you do not have computer access or you want to speak with someone in person, there are RiverLink customer service centers located at 400 E. Main St. in Louisville and 103 Quartermaster Court in Jeffersonville. Both locations are open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday.

When you create your RiverLink account, you need to have the following information:

  • Vehicle make, model, year and color
  • License plate number
  • Payment method

Prepaid personal accounts can be started with a minimum balance of $20.

You can register up to four vehicles to one account.

If you own more than four vehicles, you may open two or more personal accounts with the same address. When you reach a low account balance, RiverLink can replenish your account with an automatic charge to a credit card, debit card or checking account. You can also choose to replenish your account manually and will be sent a low-balance reminder via text or email.

There are no service fees for setting up or maintaining an account. You can receive your monthly account statement by email or access it online at RiverLink.com. There is a $2 fee to have a personal account statement mailed to you. The fee is waived if you have auto-replenishment activated on your account.

How does RiverLink actually work?

RiverLink is an all-electronic system. The benefit of this is there are no toll booths on the bridges, so traffic will continuously flow. Chances are you have seen the gantries after you cross the Lincoln Bridge or before you cross the Kennedy Bridge in Southern Indiana. There are sensors and high-resolution cameras attached to these gantries. The sensors will read local transponders placed on your windshield. It will then deduct the toll from your prepaid account.

If you do not have a local transponder or E-ZPass, the camera will capture an image of your license plate. Tolls will then be charged to an account matching the license plate. If no account exists, a bill will be sent to the address where that vehicle is registered. Toll rates are more per crossing for drivers who choose not to use a local transponder or E-ZPass due to higher administrative costs.

What is the difference between a local transponder and E-ZPass?

A RiverLink local transponder is free when you set up an account. It is an electronic device that is placed inside the front windshield of a vehicle. You cannot move it from vehicle to vehicle.

Mounting instructions are included with transponders. They’re placed on the inside of the windshield, as high and as central as possible. Transponders should be placed 3 inches away from any metal, tint, antenna or defroster. It will only work on the three locally tolled bridges.

A RiverLink E-ZPass transponder allows you to pay tolls automatically when you travel anywhere within the E-ZPass network.

The E-ZPass transponder is transferable between vehicles registered to a single account. These portable transponders are $15 to purchase. It is suggested that an E-ZPass transponder be purchased for each driver on your account. The E-ZPass transponder will be mailed free of charge to individuals and businesses. Drivers will pay the lowest RiverLink toll rates until transponders are in hand, as long as license plates are registered to the prepaid account with the E-ZPass transponder.

It’s important to note that drivers should have only one transponder in their vehicle at the same time. Having an E-ZPass transponder and a RiverLink local transponder in a vehicle can result in billing errors and possibly double billing.

More than 100,000 RiverLink transponders have been requested to date, including more than 82,000 RiverLink local transponders distributed and more than 18,000 RiverLink E-ZPass transponders ordered.

Nearly 45,000 families and more than 1,500 businesses have opened RiverLink accounts.

How much will it cost me to cross the bridges?

The toll rates vary depending on your vehicle classification, whether you have a local transponder and how frequently you cross one of the tolled bridges. For most of you, it will cost $2 each time you cross one of the three bridges if you have a transponder.

There is a frequent-user discount program. It is available to a driver with a registered personal account who makes 40 crossings (20 round trips) in a calendar month. After 40 crossings, the system will automatically apply a 50 percent credit per crossing for the first 40 crossings and apply a 50 percent discount to any additional crossings during that same calendar month. Unfortunately, the 40 trips associated with the frequent-user discount are measured by the transponder, not by the account. Trips can be combined on a single RiverLink E-ZPass transponder. However, only RiverLink local or RiverLink E-ZPass transponders qualify for the frequent-user discount. E-ZPass transponders from other locations won’t qualify.

Kentucky and Indiana will equally share toll revenues to meet the financial obligations to pay for the project and for maintenance on the bridges. Tolling will continue until all of the project’s financial obligations are satisfied. Currently, that is estimated to be through 2053; however, policy makers will determine at that time whether tolls continue to be necessary.

Tolls will increase annually beginning July 1, 2018, with inflation (measured by the Consumer Price Index) or 2.5 percent, whichever is higher. The expected increase would be pennies on the dollar, so it will be roughly a nickel for passenger vehicles with RiverLink local transponders or the E-ZPass.

What happens if I don’t want to sign up for a RiverLink account?

Drivers are not required to sign up for RiverLink, but it will cost you more to drive across the bridges if you do not have a RiverLink local transponder or E-ZPass.

There is another option if you only plan to cross the bridges a handful of times or maybe you have relatives who come through every few months and you want to save them money. You can get a prepaid RiverLink local transponder at one of seven temporary locations. RiverLink staff are available at the Nia Center in Louisville and at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Jeffersonville. Prepaid RiverLink local transponders can also be obtained at five additional, temporary locations in Louisville and Jeffersonville.

WLKY-TV

“This is another way to give drivers choices,” says Megan McLain, innovative finance manager with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “Drivers with transponders pay the lowest toll rates, but not all drivers want to open a RiverLink account. Prepaid transponders are an option for those drivers.”

The prepaid RiverLink local transponders can be purchased at these temporary locations for $20. The Nia Center and Indiana BMV accept all forms of payment. If you are visiting one of the other temporary sites, you must pay in cash. You are not actually paying for the local transponder; those are free. The money will be deducted for tolls until the $20 balance is depleted and then you simply throw away the prepaid transponder. These prepaid transponders are not eligible for the frequent-user discount no matter how many you purchase, so the value will most likely cover 10 crossings.

“Drivers purchasing a prepaid RiverLink local transponder can also decide to convert their transponder to a prepaid RiverLink personal account,” says Clint Murphy, director of tolling oversight for the Indiana Department of Transportation. “By opening an account, drivers can check their account balance online, receive low-balance notifications and be eligible for the frequent-user discount. It’s a quick and simple process.”

What happens when a customer does not pay?

Customers who do not pay their tolls will be charged a penalty and may face restrictions on vehicle registration until tolls and penalties are paid. A first invoice includes tolls accumulated over the previous month with no fees added.

After 30 days of nonpayment, a second bill will be issued that includes a $5 administrative fee. After an invoice goes unpaid for two months, the account will be in violation status and will have a $25 fee added to the bill. After an invoice goes unpaid for more than three months, the account will be placed in collection status with an additional $30 fee. After an invoice goes unpaid for more than four months, the vehicle is subject to a registration hold until the account is settled.

Abraham Lincoln Bridge. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Does it make sense to detour around the tolled bridges?

I’m sure some of you already are thinking about ways to get around crossing the tolled bridges. Well, you’re not alone. Forecasts say daily traffic in 2018 will increase on the Sherman Minton Bridge by 44 percent while the Clark Memorial Bridge is expected to see a 12 percent increase.

If you are already in downtown Louisville or in Jeffersonville, using the Clark Memorial Bridge has virtually the same travel distance as taking I-65. If you choose to take I-64 to cross the Sherman Minton Bridge, you will be adding eight miles to your drive, which translates into an additional operating cost of $1.26 using AAA’s $0.16/mile operating cost factor. Using the Lincoln and Kennedy Bridges will save you time. You can shave seven minutes off your drive and 17 minutes compared to the Clark Memorial and Sherman Minton bridges, respectively. These travel-time savings reflect slower average speeds that occur as traffic levels approach and exceed capacity during the peak periods.

The Lewis and Clark Bridge will provide a substantial travel benefit to travelers from I-71/I-265 in Kentucky to I-65 in Indiana. This route saves seven miles compared to taking the Clark Memorial Bridge and 14 miles by crossing the Sherman Minton Bridge, which translates to an operating cost savings of $1.14 and $2.23, respectively, using the AAA operating cost factor. The East End Crossing also is projected to save drivers 15 and 23 minutes compared to the Clark Memorial and Sherman Minton bridges, respectively, during the evening commute. Again, these travel time savings reflect the slower speeds of the alternate routes.

How do motorcyclists pay tolls?

Motorcycles will be charged the same rate as passenger vehicles. It is recommended motorcyclists get the E-ZPass transponder with an appropriate holder that can be purchased from third-party vendors. Neither the E-ZPass nor local transponder is designed to be in the elements long term.

What happens if you have a rental car?

If your car is in the shop for repairs and you are driving a rental car, you still have to pay each time you cross one of the three tolled bridges. In this instance, you would reimburse the rental company for the accrued cost. You should talk with your rental company about its policies. You also have the option of adding a rental car to your existing RiverLink account if you have an E-ZPass. It’s important to remember to remove the rental car from your account once you return it.

Are pedestrians going to be charged tolls?

As previously mentioned, tolls are not charged on the Clark Memorial Bridge, so you can still walk or bike across without a charge. There is no pedestrian walkway on either the Lincoln or Kennedy bridges. The Lewis and Clark Bridge will also include a pedestrian crossing. No tolls will be charged for people who want to ride a bike or walk across it.

What will happen when the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge (Second Street Bridge) is closed?

The Clark Memorial Bridge is closed for four days each April for Thunder Over Louisville. At this time, there are no plans to waive tolling on the downtown bridges. This leaves your only route without tolls as the Sherman Minton Bridge.

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