Key lawmaker says Indiana should look at more toll roads

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana needs to look at several long-term options to raise the $1 billion a year needed to maintain state roads and bridges, including the possibility of charging tolls on interstate highways, the House transportation committee chairman says.

“The truth of the matter is, it costs money to maintain roads,” Chairman Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso told The (Munster) Times. “From what we’re hearing from the public, they’re willing to pay as long as they know it’s going for roads and bridges.”

Soliday said the Legislature’s upcoming debate over ways to increase funding for roads funding around Indiana will involve a broad look at many options.

Democrats have been attacking Republican Gov. Mike Pence for months over the condition of Indiana’s poorly funded and low-ranked roads — and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma has said the issue will be a top priority of the legislative session that starts in early January.

Soliday said he isn’t keen on the $1 billion highway spending proposal that Pence announced in October or a competing $2 billion plan from House Democrats.

Soliday said his committee will discuss both proposals, but he doesn’t think either one represents a sustainable road-funding method as they largely rely on one-time money spent over a four-year period.

A multiyear study commissioned by the General Assembly recently concluded Indiana needs about $1 billion a year to maintain state roads and bridges. Local governments annually need to come up with $580 million to keep their highways in fair shape.

Initial estimates project Indiana could collect $365 million a year by tolling Interstates 65 and 70 across the state, which would pay for additional lanes on the highways and ongoing maintenance.

“When you look at how much traffic on those roads is out-of-state, why should Hoosiers wind up paying the entire freight?” Soliday asked.

The Indiana Toll Road runs across northern Indiana, but that 157-mile roadway is leased by Australian investment consortium IFM Investors. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels decided in 2006 to lease the interstate for 75 years for $3.8 billion and use the proceeds for road projects across the state. That money has been spent.

Soliday said he’ll also propose various options for local governments to help meet their needs, including new tax possibilities and state matching funds.

House Democratic leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said legislators need to realize that the state’s infrastructure needs aren’t being met.

He said he hopes that if lawmakers can agree on funding for roads and bridges needing immediate attention, it will set the Legislature on a course toward a bipartisan agreement on future solutions.

“This session, if we can build a consensus on how to allocate and use our current resources, I think perhaps we can do something positive,” Pelath said. “Then we begin the discussion about solving much longer-term problems.”

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Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

 

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