Tolling approval delay could raise cost, Hancock warns


by Joe Arnold

Posted on September 5, 2013 at 7:14 AM

Updated Thursday, Sep 5 at 6:13 PM

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WHAS11) -- A delay Thursday in approving a tolling resolution for the Ohio River Bridges Project threatens to increase the cost of Kentucky's financing and toll rates, Kentucky's Transportation Secretary said.

Indiana representatives on two separate bridges project boards removed items on Thursday's agenda which were expected to include approval of targeted toll rates revealed in a Kentucky highway report last week.

"Delays in that process could create increases in interest rates for Kentucky's financing and could result in potentially higher toll rates," warned Secretary Mike Hancock of the
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The Indiana Department of Transportation officials said the delay does not signal disapproval of the tolling plan.  Instead, INDOT and state financial workers simply ran out of time preparing all the legal documents with a condensed work week after the Labor Day holiday, explained Will Wingfield, an INDOT spokesman.

"We had difficulty getting everything together necessary," Wingfield said.  "We don't to rush this important decision, so that what was sort of what came together today.  We had a sort of a last minute change and couldn't get it done in time."

Hancock said Kentucky was surprised by the delay.

Saying Kentucky is trying to hit the bond market "just right," Finance Secretary Lori Flanery reiterated the commonwealth's concerns of how a delay may affect the project's cost.

"There's been a lot of movement in the market over the last nine months or so," Flanery explained.  "And so, it's going to be very critical from our standpoint when we are doing our financing of our pieces of this one project that we have maximum flexibility. We're not hamstrung into a poor decision because of timing issues."

One vocal opponent of the new downtown bridge says the delay offers an opportunity, to reconsider whether the states can afford it in the first place, and make sure that any tolling plan is well-publicized and well-vetted before it's approved.

"From day one this entire bridge project has been a disaster," said Dan Borsch of
Say No to Bridge Tolls.  "And this is just the end result of the entire process of releasing documents on Friday afternoon before Labor Day, of meetings that are canceled and agendas changed and it's just very difficult for the public to be informed and to participate in the process."

As Hancock spoke to reporters, Borsch pressed him on whether the public will have a chance to review the project's bond covenants before the Tolling Body votes.

"That's the contract that will actually govern what happens if you all have made a mistake,' Borsch said.

"We certainly would hope that anything that needs to be public is public prior to a vote," Hancock told WHAS11.  "The question was a bit unfair because we haven't talked about it yet."

Though the project's public comment period on tolling ended in July, Barb Anderson of Jeffersonville interrupted the Tolling Body's adjournment vote in an effort to comment on the tolling plan.

"Who are you reaching out to to represent the poor and what are they saying and do they have all the information they need?" Anderson said later when asked about her comments.

"We're working hard, we have processes at work as we speak to make sure that impact is fully assessed and anything we can do to address it we are working to do that," Hancock said.

The three-tiered toll rates Indiana delayed Thursday appear to still be on target  --

Cars (2-axle vehicles) per crossing
$1 frequency discount program

$2 with transponders,
$3 for cars with registered license plates
$4 for non-registered

Medium trucks per crossing

$2 with transponders,
$3 with registered license plates
$4 for non-registered

Heavy trucks
per crossing

$10 with transponders,
$11 for cars with registered license plates
$12 for non-registered