Kennedy Bridge re-opens; tolls soon to follow

Kennedy Bridge re-opens; tolls soon to follow

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - After well more than a year of leaving Jeffersonville before 7 a.m. each morning to guarantee she would get to work across the Ohio River by 8, Stefanie Hodgkins wasn't expecting the breeze she found on Monday.

"Twenty minutes!" she told WAVE 3 News. "It was beautiful."

The reopened Kennedy Bridge gave her three through-lanes of I-65 southbound, including the designated off-ramp at Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville.

"It was flowing well," she said.  "Nobody quite knew what lane they should be in, so we all looked like out-of-towners."

Polite visitors at that, especially now that the off-ramps to I-64 east and I-71 north have re-opened. Drivers no longer have to exit to pick up those routes to Lexington and Cincinnati via I-65 Northbound.

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But those thrills portend bills before Christmas.
"We're still installing that (tolling) system and testing it," said Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
"Do I like the extra toll?" Hodgkins asked rhetorically. "No. But is it worth the relieved, alleviated traffic? Yes, absolutely!"

On Monday, she joined more than 10,000 Kentuckians and Hoosiers who've put in their orders for transponders through the tolling authority, RiverLink. The first local transponder is free but a $20 deposit is required to set up an account.

Jeffersonville resident Maria McCormick has held off. "It doesn't seem clear," she said. "And I'm not sure if everyone's gonna do it, how they're gonna do it, and I really don't want to go to a class."

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A number of employers are wrestling with how to cope when the tolls begin, likely in early December. 

"The scanners and cameras will record only the number of crossings, not whether you're crossing on company time or your own time," Peterson said. "We're suggesting that companies consider direct reimbursement, like meal receipts, or a stipend to cover the commuting costs.

Bridge cameras and scanners will debit your account, or charge the toll, by recording an image of our license plate, and/or capturing the transponder frequency. A passenger car with a registered license plate and transponder will pay $2 per crossing, half the toll for a vehicle with no transponder and an unregistered tag.

The price difference is less for light trucks, vans, buses, campers and boat trailers ($5 with, $7 without) or heavy trucks ($10, $12).

Passenger vehicles can qualify for a volume discount for more than 40 crossings per month - the equivalent of a five-day workweek.
"Every additional trip that calendar month is discounted a dollar," Peterson said. 

That still adds up to at least $80 monthly to cross the Kennedy and Lincoln Bridges.
"But medical people work twelve-hour shifts, three or four days a week," said McCormick, a registered nurse. "Are they going to be penalized for working different shifts?"

"We understand that workweeks are different," Peterson said.  "But the purpose of tolling is, we have to pay for these beautiful new bridges."

The Clark Memorial (2nd Street) Bridge across US 31 and the Sherman Minton Bridge (crossing I-64) will remain free. But together, those bridges are designed to handle fewer vehicles than the Kennedy or Lincoln alone.

"We'll be hurt in Southern Indiana," McCormick said. "I can't see people driving over here to shop if they have to pay for it."

INDOT and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are betting that speed and convenience will trump the extra cost. "Would you rather burn $3 to $4 in gas idling, or paying a $2 toll and getting there late," Peterson asked.

Hodgkins is counting the days until the East End Bridge opens next year. "I like the Outlet Shoppes (in Simpsonville) and the Summit," she said. "Yes, I'm gonna have to pay an extra buck to do it, but it'll be offset by the taxes. Sales tax in Kentucky is 6%. Sales tax in Indiana is 7%."

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