Broad coalition calls for lessening bridge toll costs | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Broad coalition calls for lessening bridge toll costs

A full-time minimum wage worker whose job required crossing the Ohio River every day would have to work 69 hours to pay the tolls on new bridges being built in Louisville.

For that reason, KFTC stood with many other groups, state legislators and individuals on Tuesday in support of mechanisms to lessen or eliminate this additional cost on workers who can least afford it.

“Poverty wage workers shouldn’t have their paychecks stretched even further simply to be able to get to work,” said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian at a press conference organized by Rep. Jim Wayne.

The loss of $50 a month “will make putting food on the table or keeping the lights on even more difficult” for many, added Rev. John Burke.

Two new and controversial bridges are being built, one in downtown Louisville and the second eight miles upstream. In addition, an existing downtown bridge will be “re-purposed” as part of the project. All three will have tolls of $1 per trip for frequent travelers (at least 20 crossings per month) and $2 for less frequent trips. All tolls will be collected electronically.

Thousands of workers cross existing bridges every day from southern Indiana to get to work in Louisville, or vice versa. For full-time jobs, tolls could be $500 a year.

Legislators speaking at the press conference pointed out that this funding scheme for the bridges is regressive, meaning the cost would be borne disproportionately (a higher percentage of their income) by lower income commuters.

“The impact is disproportionate,” said Sen. Gerald Neal. “I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s reasonable to impose tolls on the working poor who cannot shoulder additional burdens.”

As required by federal law, the Kentucky and Indiana transportation cabinets studied the impact of the tolls on lower income commuters. Although they recommended some ways to make it easier for people to pay the tolls, they did not offer any solutions for reducing or eliminating tolls for those who cannot afford them.

Rep. Joni Jenkins pointed to one solution – legislation that would give a state tax credit for tolls paid to for low-wage workers (defined as anyone who qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit).

The KFTC Executive Committee endorsed such a bill introduced by Rep. Wayne in the 2013 General Assembly. This bill ¬– which does not eliminate payment of the tolls but a way to recoup the cost – did not receive a hearing or vote.

Legislators also called for improved public transportation.

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