Louisville joins other communities dealing with the politics of tolls

07/19/2010 11:42 AM

The Ohio River Bridges Project, first proposed 41 years ago, has emerged as a top issue in the 2010 Louisville mayoral race between Hal Heiner and Greg Fischer as they wrestle with, among other issues, whether tolls are the way to go.

There  has been some public backlash against the current plan: building an East End bridge, a new northbound Downtown bridge (the current I-65 bridge, the Kennedy, would be southbound only) and re-doing the Spaghetti Junction.A recent report from the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority suggested tolls could be as high as $3 each way.

While both mayoral candidates have agreed that $3 tolls are too high, neither has offered much in the way of specific alternatives.

“We need to build the bridges and to create the thousands of jobs that come with it – but a $3 toll is simply too much,” said Fischer, the Democrat in a brief statement issued after the Authority’s recommendation.

Heiner offered a harsher denouncement of that toll plan, calling the preliminary proposal “irresponsible and a burden Louisvillians will not accept.”

“This would represent one of Louisville’s largest tax increases and I will not support this rate,” said Heiner, the Republican. “If $6 per trip is the only way the authority can build two bridges, then I believe we need to reduce the scope of the project by breaking it into more manageable phases with the east end bridge being the first phase of a multi phase project.”

But as aging transportation infrastructure needs rebuilding — or expansions to handle modern demands — other areas are wrestling politically with the prospect of tolls and ways to cover multi-billion-dollar projects. So Louisville is far from alone in having one of these mega projects dominating civic discussion. Here are some other areas struggling with similar road/bridge funding issues:

Portland, Ore.

In the Northwestern part of the country, Portland, Ore., is struggling with a rebuild of the I-5 highway that crosses the Columbia River into Washington State. According to the Oregonian, the project is looking at little federal support, much like Louisville.

In addition, the Portland city council and Vancouver, Wash., city council can’t agree on whether to toll the bridge or not. And the current Portland mayor is facing a stiff challenger in November who doesn’t support bridge tolling. In order to try and appease voters, the project is trying to scale down in size.

“What they’ve cooked up is this enormous thing,” Portland Metro Council President David Bragdon said to the Oregonian. “They’re jeopardizing the whole project by making it so enormous. I think that’s starting to sink in.”


In March, the Washington state legislature approved tolls to build a new state road bridge, State Route 520, over Lake Washington in Seattle.  The bill calls for $3.25 tolls one-way on the current SR520 and would continue when the new bridge is completed on both spans.

But like Louisville, not all bridges or interstates in the area would be tolled. Nearby I-90 would stay toll-free, leading those who reject tolls to be wary of the tolling effectiveness.

“This is a bad bill that’s going to make it more expensive to live in this state,” Washington State Rep. Jay Rodne told seattlepi.com.

The tolling is seen as wildly unpopular in the region.


But a suburban bridge in western Chicago, the Longmeadow Parkway, will only introduce tolls of $1.50, according to the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights.

The tolling price falls in the middle of tolled roads in the Chicago area, with Veterans Parkway/I-355 using $1 tolls and the Chicago Skyway having $3 tolls.

The bridge’s price tag is considerably smaller than others though, only $117 million.

“We need this bridge,” Algonquin Village President John Schmitt told the Daily Herald. “We need it desperately – we need to keep the jobs in the area. And the only way to get the jobs is to build the buildings and build the businesses. And the only way to do that is to provide the highway infrastructure so that they can be profitable.

“A lot of the cost that is in this will be recovered from the development that is going to come. We need this road. We needed it five years ago. You need to build it; we’ll pay the tolls.”

According to the article, the town reached out to the federal government for funding help. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent back a book that says tolling is the way to go for the foreseeable future.

North Carolina/Virginia

Facing much-needed transportation money and a crumbling interstate, two East Coast state are looking to each other for tolls on their neighboring stretches of I-95.

According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has asked the federal government to allow tolling near the Virginia/North Carolina border on I-95, with tolls between $2 and $4.

And the Charlotte News and Observer reports that North Carolina is ready to answer the call with tolls on their own on their stretch of I-95. While the plan is not as far along as Virginia’s, North Carolina’s plan calls for multiple tolls throughout the 182-mile stretch.

No toll rates has been set in North Carolina yet, but the project seems to have support.

Both states are looking for no-stop, electronic tolling that would either have cameras capture license plate numbers and send a bill or allow a dashboard device to be scanned like a credit card without the driver stopping.

- Kenny Colston


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