Abraham Lincoln Bridge. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Abraham Lincoln Bridge | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not among the 70,000 people who have ordered RiverLink transponders, now is the time to do it — unless you want to dig deeper into your pocket when you cross most of the Ohio River bridges.

At Exit 1 on Indiana’s side of the Abraham Lincoln Bridge, construction crews were putting up signs Tuesday morning to notify motorists about E-ZPass, a transponder that reduces tolling costs. While a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet told IL via email that no start date for toll operations had been set, she urged consumers to set up their RiverLink accounts now to avoid paying higher tolls.

Once tolling begins, crossing the Abraham Lincoln Bridge, the East End bridge and the Kennedy Memorial Bridge will cost $2 per passenger vehicle — so long as the vehicles are equipped with a transponder. A local transponder is free and will be mailed to people when they set up their prepaid account. People also can use their E-ZPass transponder, which works in 16 states, or buy one for $15.

Courtesy of RiverLink.
Courtesy of RiverLink.

Without a transponder, crossing will cost $3 if the vehicle has been registered with RiverLink, or $4 without registration. A transponder is an electronic device that is placed beneath the vehicle’s windshield. Sensors on the bridges will communicate with the transponder, while cameras will capture license plates. None of the bridges will have toll booths, and drivers will not have to slow down.

People who have registered on RiverLink have to add money into their account, from which tolls are withdrawn automatically. People without an account will receive a bill in the mail.

Larger vehicles, including pickup trucks that tow a boat or semi trucks, have to pay more, up to $12 if they lack registration with RiverLink.

For daily commuters from Southern Indiana to Louisville and vice versa, the toll can add up quickly. A five-day-a-week commute with two crossings for 50 weeks per year would cost $1,000. However, drivers who make 40 crossings (20 round trips) in a calendar month will get an automatic 50 percent discount — so long as they have a transponder.

For those who want to avoid a toll, options include the Clark Memorial Bridge, also known as Second Street Bridge, which connects downtown Louisville and Jeffersonville, and the Sherman Minton Bridge (I-64), between West Louisville and New Albany. TARC riders also will not be charged an extra fee to cross the tolled bridges. LMPD told IL that it will monitor the situation as tolling begins and more motorists may try to use the Second Street Bridge to avoid paying a toll. However, the department has no plans to use officers to facilitate traffic across the bridge.

Construction on the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project began on May 28, 2013, on the East End Crossing. Officials from Kentucky and Indiana have said the project would reduce traffic congestion, increase public safety and produce an economic impact of nearly $87 billion over 30 years.

The project was funded with the help of $1 billion in federal highway funds. Kentucky is paying its share of the project, nearly $1.3 billion, with a 30-year bond, the last payment of which is scheduled for 2053. The cabinet could not immediately provide IL with the amount of the state’s annual bond payments.

kentucky-transportation-cabinetAnnual operating and maintenance costs will range from about $3.8 million in 2017 to more than $55 million in 2031 and about $150 million in 2058. KTC and the Indiana Department of Transportation project that total operating and maintenance costs of the bridges through 2068 will reach $1.9 billion.

Consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave projects that tolls next year will generate revenue of nearly $33 million. The firm projects tolling revenue will exceed $100 million by 2020 and $200 million by 2035. Through 2054, the firm projects that tolling will generate revenue of $8.3 billion.

The money will be split 50-50 between Kentucky and Indiana.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet referred questions from IL to Mindy Peterson, of Louisville-based public relations firm C2 Strategic Communications. Peterson told IL via email that the toll revenue can be used only “to meet the financial obligations of the project or for maintenance of the bridges or project area, including the Kennedy interchange.”

The joint board for the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project will meet at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 5 Offices at 8310 Westport Road in Louisville. The tolling board will meet at the same location at 3 p.m.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.