Avoiding bridge tolls is harder than you think

Madeleine Winer

Trying to avoid bridge tolls on the Ohio River? It's not as easy as you think.

A rigorous license plate tracking system and hundreds of dollars in fines await drivers that try to dodge paying bridge tolls. And although RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson said she is not aware of any local drivers trying to squeak by the tolling system, people in other states have certainly put their creative mettle to the test.

A Florida man used a James Bond-like device that lowers a screen over a vehicle's license plate with the push of a button and now faces felony charges.

Another Florida driver smudged grease on their license plate to fudge its numbers. And another put their plate in a plastic case, which made it harder for a tolling system to read.

A driver in New York apparently rigged his vehicle with fishing line that he pulled to conceal his license plate as he passed through tolls on the George Washington Bridge, according to a New Jersey news site. And in other cases, drivers racked up thousands in unpaid tolls on other New York and New Jersey roadways.

But don't get carried away with creative license plate hacks just yet. Avoiding a toll may end up costing Kentuckiana drivers a lot more in the long run.

In Kentucky, drivers can face up to $250 in fees for failing to display a registered plate, which is considered a violation under state law. Indiana drivers face more than $150 in fines and misdemeanor charges.

"Not only is it a bad idea, but it is illegal," Peterson said about attempting to avoid paying the toll.

And to make sure that toll dodging scofflaws are properly punished, two Southern Indiana legislators have filed a bill that would assign a more hefty fine to drivers who don't display their license plates on tolled roads.

Reps. Ed Clere and Steve Stemler, whose constituents are largely Clark and Floyd county residents, have co-authored a bill that would fine drivers up to $500 for improperly displaying a license plate if the violation occurs in a county with a toll road or a bordering county.

Clere said he and Stemler filed the same legislation last year on the "small but significant problem."

While toll angst in the region is real for drivers, many who said they would try to avoid the tolls on the Lincoln, Kennedy and Lewis and Clark bridges have simply taken the untolled Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges.

But Peterson said RiverLink does have a system in place to catch drivers if its cameras on electronic toll gantries can't read a license plate – for whatever reason.

First, images from cameras on the toll gantries go through an electronic image reviewer that aims to identify and match a plate to a vehicle already in the system or to an address where the plate is registered.

If it can't find a match, RiverLink staff keeps files of like images in a folder and periodically reviews them to see if they can match images to a vehicle, Peterson said. This process takes place out of the company's headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Other toll roads, such as the Miami-Dade Expressway, follow a similar process for monitoring license plates, said Mario Diaz, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. He said if a license plate cannot be connected to an account, pictures are stored, and with time, the same make, color and a portion of the vehicle's license plate will be matched to an appropriate vehicle and owner.

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He said people obstructing their license plate or taking other actions to avoid the toll is not something that has been common since five Miami expressways were converted to all-electronic tolling systems about three years ago.

Peterson said drivers should know that racking up unpaid bills also isn't in a driver's best interest. If an invoice from RiverLink goes unpaid for 30 days, a driver will be fined $5. If an account is delinquent for two months, a $25 fee gets tacked on before rising to $30 if it doesn't get paid for three months.

After that, a RiverLink account is subject to a collections process. And in most cases, drivers won't be able to renew their vehicle registration in Kentucky and Indiana if they have outstanding fines on their account.

Clere added that the toll fine bill is "directed at making sure everyone pays their fair share," and that fines collected help pay off the cost of the toll road in a certain county.

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Aside from the tolled bridges in Louisville, the Indiana Toll Road - that runs across the northern part of the state from its border with Ohio to its border with Illinois - is the only other tolled road in the state.

The bill is currently awaiting a hearing from the Committee on Roads and Transportation.

"This is to help ensure accountability," Clere said. "We're trying to minimize the number of people getting a free ride, especially those taking advantage of the system."

Madeleine Winer is the Southern Indiana communities reporter for the Courier-Journal. Contact her at 502-582-4087 or