The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 16 Feb 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
With recent headlines about tolls to be charged at the new bridges on the Ohio River, I wonder how many readers remember when toll roads were in Kentucky.
Of course, tolls are not a new idea. Some of the earliest roads in Kentucky used tolls to pay for them. In those early days, it would have been as simple as a landowner clearing a path through his property, and maybe sitting by the road and charging people when they passed through.
In 1849, Kentucky passed a law that better regulated the roads, and used tax lists to assign property owners to provide physical labor to maintain roads; the more land you owned, the more labor you had to provide. It appears that the county was divided into districts with each district having a road overseer. These overseers were provided with a list of eligible workers and the amount of time each was required to spend on road maintenance. This was based on the value of the tax they owed, meaning that those with more valuable taxable property would be responsible for provided more days of work on the roads. However, almost all adult males were required to provide some work based on the toll tax.
In 1869, not long after the Civil War, several corporations were created to build new roads. Such groups were formed to build "turnpikes" (called that for the pike, or gate, that would be used to block the way). Examples include the first Blue Lick Road, a road from Shepherdsville to Mt. Washington (roughly what Highway 44 is today), and a road that extended from New Cut Road in Jefferson County to Gap In Knob in north-central Bullitt County.
When the publicly-financed Kentucky Turnpike (later becoming Interstate 65) first opened in 1956 it was, as the name implies, a toll road. There were booths at every entry/exit point all along the road. The dime and quarter tolls paid by each car going through those stops eventually paid for the construction of the road. Near Shepherdsville and Lebanon Junction were "Toll Plazas," which I have written about before.
The I-65 toll booths were closed in the 1970's, having long-since paid for the road, and the center-lane plazas of restaurants, gas stations, and motels were closed a bit later in the 1980's when it became considered unsafe to have them so located between the fast lanes.
We have such a booth (shown in a photo here) at the Bullitt County History Museum, a nice little museum located in the front of the Bullitt County Courthouse in Shepherdsville. The museum display features a working machine, modified to change light colors and ring when a coin is tossed in. A sign points out that change goes to the operation of the museum, and people seem to get a kick out of tossing in a coin or two.
That "booth" has a story of its own. In 2005, I had asked the Kentucky Transportation Department about getting a toll booth for the museum, and to my surprise, I soon heard back from a friend in Frankfort that we could indeed have one. The only question from Frankfort was, "Is there space in front of the courthouse for the semi-trailer truck to deliver it?"I happily answered "Yes!" and began preparations for receiving the booth.
Then it struck me. Why do they need space for an entire semi-trailer? After a quick call, I learned that I had used the wrong term. What I was wanting was just the 3' by 3' working toll portion of the booth. What was to be sent was an entire 14 × 9 × 7 foot BOOTH, almost as large as the museum display room! After teasing the County Judge/Executive at the time, Kenneth Rigdon, about how good that booth would look in the new courthouse hallway, my friends in Frankfort quickly made the correction and sent a nice, working section of the booth, making a very nice, small display for visitors.
I still have nightmares about using the real toll booths when I was a teenager. One evening, I was driving down the turnpike to Bernheim Forest to meet a girlfriend. I had a dollar for gas (which was enough back then) and five nickels for the toll. I pulled up to the toll booth, and coolly tossed the coins. But I missed the basket!The coins bounced off the edge of the receiving basket and rolled, of course, under my car. Traffic quickly began backing up behind me. Cars angrily honked their horns. I just knew I would go to prison for life if I didn't pay the toll, so I very UNcoolly crawled under my car, fetched the coins, carefully placed the coins in the basket, and humbly went on my way.
It turns out that Kenny Rigdon might have been a State Trooper stationed near those booths back then. I remember him telling the story about when he would pull over people for running through the booths without paying. They would almost always try to say that they had indeed thrown the coins in, but that the machine did not register them. "It might help," he would tell the offender as he wrote a ticket, "if you would roll your window down first. "
I don't think that there have been any toll roads anywhere in Kentucky for quite a few years now. We are about to experience them again with the new bridges, and I expect that there will be a lot of new stories to tell. As a sign on the toll "booth" at the museum points out, "It is difficult to understand what road to travel, if you do not know where you have been. "
Here are links on our web site to information about early toll roads in the county.
Blue Lick Turnpike Road Company
Shepherdsville/Belmont Furnace Turnpike Road Co.
Shepherdsville/Elizabethtown Turnpike Road Co.
Shepherdsville/Louisville Plank Road Co. Merger
Shepherdsville/Louisville Turnpike Road Co.
Shepherdsville and Pitt's Point Turnpike Road Company
Spencer, Bullitt, and Jefferson Turnpike Road Co.
Copyright 2014 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.