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Ind. residents keep wary eye on toll agency makeup

JEFFERSONVILLE — A panel that will set toll rates for new Ohio River bridges between southern Indiana and Kentucky will have few members who actually live in the areas the spans serve.

The potential lack of local representation is drawing concerns from toll opponents and local officials.

"I think you have to have the local feel of the landscape to really get a gauge on what the local economy can handle," Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore told the Courier-Journal ( ) in Louisville, Ky.

The specific makeup of the group that will assess tolls on the Kennedy Bridge, a new adjacent span downtown and a new bridge between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., won't be known until Indiana and Kentucky officials agree on a toll policy. No date for a decision has been set.

But officials with both states say the panel will include seats for the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority and the Indiana Finance Authority. Combined, those groups currently have just three of 15 members from the Louisville, Ky., area and none from southern Indiana.

"We get little or no representation. Nothing more than a lot of the same nonsense as far as I'm concerned," said Mike Kapfhammer, a co-owner of Buckhead Mountain Grill in Jeffersonville and an opponent of tolls on Interstate 65.

Across the United States, tolling boards have a wide range of membership, including both elected and appointed members. In the Dallas area, eight of the nine members of the North Texas Tollway Authority are from the counties where the all-electronic toll roads are located.

Outside Denver, the agency that approves toll rates includes elected leaders from the eight cities and counties that are home to the toll roads.

In Washington State, the agency that sets toll rates for roads, bridges and ferries specifies that four members must come from the western part of the state and three from the eastern half. No more than two members can be from the same county.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer pledged that local residents will have a voice as the tolling panel is formed.

Kentucky and Indiana estimate that tolls would generate more than $10 billion over four decades, according to a financial plan recently approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

The two states are working to finalize an agreement on revenue sharing and toll collection practices. Without toll rates in place, the states are using estimates of $2 per crossing for cars, SUVs and other passenger vehicles; $5 for panel trucks and $10 for tractor-trailers. Frequent commuters would pay $1, though officials haven't defined the term.

Toll costs are expected to rise 2 ½ percent a year to cover increasing costs of operating the toll system.

An economic analysis recently found that Indiana drivers would use the bridges the most and therefore pay the bulk of the tolls.

That's why any tolling body should include some representatives from Jeffersonville, said Dennis Julius, a Jeffersonville City Council member who has raised concerns about the impact of tolls and construction on the I-65 bridges.

"I think we ought to have some kind of representation, because we're going to be probably the most affected of anybody, in my opinion," he said.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said the concerns about representation are premature given that the toll rates haven't been "set in stone."

"Obviously we want to make sure that we get input from everybody as we move along and finalize the tolling part of this," Beshear said.