By Dionte Coleman
INDIANAPOLIS—Gov. Eric Holcomb said Thursday he won’t pursue tolls on more Indiana highways, but he left open the possibility that tolling might be needed in the future to maintain the state’s infrastructure.
Holcomb submitted a letter to the state budget committee where he spelled out his reasons for not tolling additional roads now. The letter accompanied a strategic statewide tolling plan that was commissioned by the legislature in 2017. The deadline to submit the report was Dec. 1.
“While I do not intend to move forward with this plan, there may be good reasons to revisit this report in the future,” Holcomb said. “In the least, I do not want to foreclose a successor from considering tolling as an option for infrastructure improvements.”
Indiana, he said in his letter, is in an enviable position as the state invests billions of dollars in road and bridge improvements. In addition, the state is receiving another $800 million from a renegotiated contract with the company managing the Indiana toll road, he noted.
The strategic tolling plan was prepared by HNTB Indiana Inc., an engineering consulting firm, under a $9.6 million contract approved earlier this year. The plan includes everything from a strategy on setting toll rates to projections on road use and revenues.
HNTB, in its report, notes that the Indiana Department of Transportation is investigating ways to widen I-65 and I-70 outside of central Indiana to three lanes from border to border. The cost of that alone is about $4.65 billion, or about four times INDOT’s entire 2018 capital improvement budget.
“Interstate tolling could fund this work, along with other improvement needed to improve mobility for Indiana’s residents,” the report says.
Furthermore, revenues from gasoline taxes, the primary source of road funding, are expected to decline by 30 percent over the next 30 years as vehicles become more fuel efficient, according to the report. INDOT expects state highway revenue to decline in the mid-2020s.
“We must continue to analyze innovative funding methods to retain our position as a top state for highway infrastructure,” Holcomb said. “I have directed INDOT to continue to assess all funding options and other mobility improvements that would modernize our interstate highways.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, applauded Holcomb’s decision not to pursue more toll roads.
“I suppose the easiest, simplest response to today’s announcement is ‘Good,’” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “Considering that motorists statewide will have to deal with yearly gas tax increases that will continue to come until the middle of the next decade, I should think that most folks will be happy that they won’t have to pay any more money for improving our roads by traveling on more tolled highways.”
GiaQuinta was referring to the gas tax increase approved in 2017, which also calls for an annual one cent per gallon hike through 2024. The current tax is 29 cents per gallon.
Bosma said in a press release that he appreciates the work that went into the strategic plan and agrees with Holcomb’s assessment.
“While we have taken tremendous steps forward, we will continue to monitor future revenue projections and consider all options as our state’s needs change,” he said.
Dionte Coleman is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.