Thousands of Hoosiers cross into Louisville each day, and each time motorists cross one of the new Ohio River bridges they get hit with a toll. The tolling system went into effect late last year and it’s causing some people to change their driving habits.
Sarah Jewell is among the 2.25 million motorists who crossed one of the Ohio River bridges in January alone.
“It’s worth it for me, because I’m saving that much money in gas, I’m saving that many miles on my car, it’s that many less oil changes that I have to do,” Jewell says. “So the toll isn’t a worry for me.”
It’s all electronic, so there’s no stopping. Jewell just keeps driving and then the toll is deducted from an online account that she put money into every so often.
IU Southeast Studies Tolling’s Impact On Students, Staff
It’s a convenient system for Jewell, who makes the trek everyday from her home in Louisville to her job as a Research Specialist at Indiana University Southeast.
IU Southeast recently sent students a survey about the tolled bridges. Jewell says out of the 1,000 students who responded, about a third said they use a bridge to get to campus, but only about 6 percent indicated they use a tolled bridge.
Some students have changed their routes to avoid the new tolled bridges. That makes Freshman Julia Adams wary that the bridges could hurt the school’s admission.
“[For] people trying to come to IUS, a toll might deter them if they don’t think about using other bridges,” Adams says. “And even if they use other bridges, the crumbling infrastructure, the traffic over there, can be a little bit of a problem.”
Adams is a member of the school’s student government. She wants to propose incentives to help students who cannot afford the extra expense of tolling.
Meanwhile, the university is taking a more wait-and-see approach.
“The tolls just started this semester, so as we look at admissions and how students are scheduling, maybe they are choosing more online courses, then there would be reason to look at the tolls a little bit more,” Jewell says.
How The Toll Works
The cost for an average passenger vehicle to cross a tolled bridge is $4 one-way – $2 if you register online and create an account with RiverLink, the system that manages the tolling. The price increases for larger vehicles – $7 for medium-sized vehicles and $12 for semi-trucks.
RiverLink account holders have a transponder attached to their vehicle. Cameras scan it each time they cross the bridge and they pay a reduced toll.
State Sen. Ron Grooms (R-Jeffersonville) is proposing two bills that could provide motorists with relief. Those who pay over a certain amount in tolls annually could apply for a tax benefit.
“Most motorists already pay gas taxes to help support the roads, and this is just a way to help soften some of the expenses that they have,” Grooms says.
Together, the three tolled bridges cost $2.3 billion to build or renovate. According to RiverLink, tolling should have the bridges paid off by the year 2053.
Drivers are paying for the convenience. For example, drivers can save up to an hour of travel time by using the new Lewis and Clark Bridge (also called the East End Bridge) on the east side of Louisville.
Photo: East End Crossing
“We’re not gonna build this fantastic new project, and then put a toll booth up there and slow down traffic, right?” says Mindy Peterson, RiverLink Spokesperson. “That would take away all of the benefits that people have been working really hard to bring to drivers in the area.”
Peterson says RiverLink will keep a close eye on traffic patterns throughout this first year to see how much the new bridges are being used. They’re paying special attention to alternative routes, too – and looking to see how much traffic is diverted to bridges that aren’t tolled.
Peterson says over time, she thinks convenience will trump cost.
“People go to school, they go to work, they talk to fellow students, neighbors, coworkers who say, ‘you know what, I’m using the Kennedy, the Lincoln, the new Lewis and Clark, I’m saving time,’” she says. “And that’s an option that people start investigating.”
According to a report from the Indiana Finance Authority, the new bridges will bring in $87 billion and 15,000 new jobs in next 30 years. Those numbers are projected to accumulate over the next thirty years.