Kentucky retains interim toll consultant after seeking to bypass bidding rules
When Kentucky and Indiana fired a key consultant on the Ohio River Bridges Project last June, the states’ top decision-making body chose Parsons Transportation Group to take over.
After ousting the eTrans Group, the Kentucky-Indiana Joint Board voted to install Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons as the project’s toll adviser “for a term not to exceed six months.” The board has met once since then.
But Parsons is still on the job nearly 10 months later after the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet sought an exemption from the state’s competitive bidding rules to keep paying the company. Kentucky hired eTrans, but Parsons is working under a separate contract with the Indiana Department of Transportation.
The toll adviser involves ensuring that the all-electronic bridge tolling system set to open later this year works correctly. It also monitors the work of Kapsch TrafficCom, which will install equipment and collect revenue from drivers needed to pay off construction debt.
Keeping Parsons on board was in the “best interest” of the state, then- Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock wrote in a January 13 memo to Kentucky’s Finance and Administration Cabinet explaining that Parsons should continue as toll adviser until July 2017.
With the tolling system under construction, “it would not be practical to alter the Toll Advisory services currently being provided,” Hancock wrote in the letter, which WDRB News obtained under a public records request. Any change would probably result in a delay in toll collection, he wrote.
The letter gives the state the authority to keep paying Parsons, Transportation Cabinet spokesman Ryan Watts wrote in an email. The $1 million purchase order asked for the exemption under a state policy for items that are not “practicable or feasible for competitive bidding.”
Hancock, who served in former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration and continued as acting secretary after Gov. Matt Bevin took office in December, resigned in early March.
Will Wingfield, an Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman, said the joint board will ratify the agreement “as a matter of formality” at its next meeting. No such meeting has been scheduled, according to the states.
The four-member board includes the top transportation and finance officials in both states.
Wingfield and Watts could not say why the board hasn’t met to discuss extending Parsons’ role as toll adviser.
Meanwhile, the Finance Cabinet has yet to rule on a protest lodged by eTrans last July. The company claims Kentucky and Indiana “deliberately and persistently interfered” with its contract, tried to influence hiring decisions and of made up reasons for pulling the $3.5 million award.
Finance Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said all sides are working towards an agreement. The parties agreed to waive the 120-day limit by which the disputes must be resolved under Kentucky law, she said.
Kentucky has until the end of April to meet the conditions set forth by the governing body of the E-Z Pass Group, which the state hopes to join.
The state’s membership road has been rocky. Its application was denied briefly last fall over concerns about a different kind of technology being used for the Louisville-area bridges project.
The 24-member board accepted the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority as a member last November – as long as it met four requirements by April 30. As of last week, two of them were complete, according to the Transportation Cabinet.
The state’s payment of $100,000, covering annual dues of $25,000 and a $75,000 fee, is “being processed currently,” and tests are underway on electronic toll collection equipment that must meet the E-ZPass Group accuracy standards.
Kentucky expects to meet the April 30 deadline. “If we do not, we will ask for an extension,” Watts said in an email.
Toll penalties take shape
Kentucky and Indiana are still finalizing “business rules” that will lay out details of toll infractions, but they’ve begun outlining how much scofflaws might have to pay.
In Indiana, a massive road funding bill signed last month by Gov. Mike Pence sets court judgments of $35 for each time a toll bill goes unpaid in Clark County, Ind. That’s on par with a parking ticket under state law.
No law changes were considered in Kentucky, where the General Assembly wrapped up last week. Instead, the state will set regulations setting violation fees of about $35 after two invoices are sent, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Both states plan to split revenues from fines and fees. The change in Indiana law allows toll fees to be used for the project, rather than be sent to the state’s general fund.
Starting later this year, the states will assess tolls on the Interstate 65 Lincoln and Kennedy bridges, as well as an eastern span between Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind.
The proposed toll rates for vehicles with a transponder are: $1 for a “frequent” driver who makes 40 crossings per month; $2 for a passenger car; $5 for a medium truck; and $10 for a heavy truck.
The rates for vehicles with a registered license plate account are: $3 for a passenger car; $6 for a medium truck; and $11 for a heavy truck.
Vehicles without any of those accounts will be charged $4 for a passenger car; $7 for a medium truck; and $12 for a heavy truck.
It’s expected that a driver without a toll account – linked to either a license plate or transponder – will receive an invoice for the amount due. If that’s not paid, a fee will be charged for each invoice sent. Finally, if no payment is received, a violation notice and an additional fee will be sent.
The details of those penalties will be described in the business rules, according to KTYC. The states have missed several deadlines for finishing the rules and have not given an updated timeline for releasing them.