Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's assistant project manager Ben Baker, right, and
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s innovative finance manager David Talley, left, and Jim Stark, deputy commissioner of Indiana Department of Transportation, speaking to the media. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Correction appended.

The tolling system for the new Ohio River bridges, called RiverLink, will be completely electronic and won’t require vehicles to stop and pay.

Unlike traditional tolls where cars stop at manned booths, the toll systems on the new Interstate 65 bridge, the East End bridge and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge will charge travelers by taking photos of license plates and mailing out bills or by scanning a transponder in a vehicle that is linked to a prepaid account.

“We’ve made the process as fast and simple and easy as possible,” said David Talley, innovative finance manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The tolls will go into effect sometime in late 2016 — 70 years after tolls were eliminated from the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge. The Sherman Minton Bridge and Clark Memorial Bridge won’t be tolled.

Starting in May, Kentuckiana residents and business owners will have the opportunity to receive one free transponder for each vehicle they own. Residents and business owners can then set up an account on www.RiverLink.com, a website that will be in operation in mid-2016. The account must have a minimum of $20 in it to start.

“We strongly urge this is the best way,” said Jim Stark, deputy commissioner of Indiana Department of Transportation. “This will make everybody’s life easier.”

Residents also may choose to pay $15 for an EZ Pass transponder, which can be moved from vehicle to vehicle. The EZ Pass also is connected to a prepaid account.

People will be able to set up accounts and pick up transponders at a Kentucky transportation office, which will be located at Main and Preston streets, or in Indiana at Jeffersonville’s Quartermaster Station. The Kentucky-Indiana Joint Board, which is overseeing the bridges project, also is negotiating with retailers to set up operations in stores.

A trip across the bridge will cost $1 for frequent users who make at least 40 trips a month. This excludes commercial vehicles. Passenger vehicles who don’t regularly cross will pay anywhere from $2 to $4; medium trucks will pay $5 to $7; and heavy trucks will pay $10 to $12.

The tolls could bring in as much as $100 million a year in annual revenue, which will be split between Indiana and Kentucky, Stark said. The project also is expected to bring in a potential $87 billion in economic investment over a 30-year period.

“This is a game-changer for the entire region,” Stark said. “These infrastructure improvements will make us more competitive when attracting businesses.”

The new roads and bridges also will decrease vehicle crashes and commute times, according to Talley.

The board has not yet identified what constitutes a medium truck, heavy truck or passenger vehicle.

The board has agreed to exempt emergency vehicles from tolls, as well as TARCs to prevent the cost from being passed on to its riders, many of whom are low income. However, no other type of vehicle is being considered for exemption, Talley said.

School buses, for example, will have to pay the toll. However, it is unclear what vehicle classification those buses will fall under.

The greatest potential impact would be on Clark County schools, which travel to Louisville for field trips to the zoo, Junior Achievement and museums downtown, among other destinations.

Tom Dykiel, CFO of Greater Clark County Schools, said he was unaware that the tolling authority was not considering a toll exemption for school buses.

“Oh, that’s nice of them,” Dykiel stated sarcastically. He could not say exactly how the tolls might impact the school district.

Decisions about field trips are left up to individual schools, he said, noting that he has not talked to any principals yet.

“If anything, (the cost) will probably be passed onto the kids in the price of the field trip,” Dykiel said. “That is my guess.”

Schools do have the option of crossing the Clark Memorial Bridge or going out of their way to the Sherman Minton Bridge, he said. However, it’s more likely that buses will continue to take the easiest route, toll or no toll.

Jefferson County Public School also plans to factor in the cost of the tolls into any field trips to Southern Indiana, interim JCPS spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth said, adding that tolls won’t go into effect until late 2016.

Hackbarth, senior counselor at Louisville public relations firm Guthrie/Mayes, also “works primarily with the Walsh Design Build Team (which is building the Downtown Crossing for the Ohio River Bridges,” according to her bio.

When asked if the tolls were a concern for JCPS, Hackbarth repeated that the tolls would be factored into the cost of the field trip.

JCPS superintendent Donna Hargens did not immediately return a request for comment.

Corrections: A previous version of this article misidentified David Talley, innovative finance manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The article also incorrectly referred to PR firm Guthrie/Mayes as an advertising firm. IL regrets the errors.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]