Indiana governor wants more tolls, higher fees

| Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A plan unveiled this fall by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels may be in for some changes. Public hearings to discuss the plan – which includes a 120 percent toll increase for trucks – have been delayed until early 2005.

The plan could also lead to tolls being used to extend Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville .

Perhaps the worst news for truckers and other drivers, is that the plan calls for increasing fees on the Indiana Toll Road by 72 percent for cars and 120 percent for large trucks.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said Indiana truckers should demand a credit for fuel taxes paid on toll road miles.

“When you talk about more than doubling the toll rate set for vehicles operating on that road, you’re talking about a tremendous increase that most people would concur would be really hard to swallow,” Spencer said. “At a minimum, truckers should be urging state officials to approve allowing them to take a credit on their fuel taxes for miles run on the toll road.”

As part of his 10-year, $10.6 billion statewide highway construction plan, Daniels brought up the possibility of leasing the Toll Road and an extended I-69 to a private group, which would keep the tolls in exchange for operating and maintaining the roadways.

At least six companies are working with the state on bids for the Toll Road contract, Fort Wayne ’s The Journal Gazette reported.

Any leasing plans would require approval from the Indiana General Assembly.

Congress encouraged such public-private partnerships in the Highway Bill approved in August. The legislation authorizes $15 billion in tax-exempt bonds for privately financed highways and simplifies their environmental planning process.

Several states already utilize the partnerships in various forms, including California , Florida , Georgia , Texas and Virginia .

Daniels’ office plans to increase Toll Road fees on its own beginning this spring. The revenue would be used to maintain the road and pay for other highway work.

Daniels said toll rates have not increased since 1985 and no longer meet maintenance needs.

Under the governor’s plan, dubbed “Major Moves,” increases on the Toll Road would vary by distance driven. The toll for passenger vehicles traveling the entire 157-mile route would rise from $4.65 to $8. Tractor-trailer rates for driving the same distance would increase from $14.55 to $32.

The toll increases would generate an estimated $770 million in 10 years.

“Very little of this will happen on a business-as-usual basis,” Daniels said in a written statement. “Without new approaches that stretch dollars and access new funding sources, only a fraction of these projects will happen within the next decade. Some will never happen.”

The governor is seeking higher tolls in part because he said he would not support a hike in the state’s per-gallon taxes on gasoline and diesel to pay for roadwork.

Daniels cited high fuel costs.

The Indiana Department of Transportation postponed two public hearings scheduled for early this month on the toll hike. Gary Abell, director of communications for the agency, said the meetings would be rescheduled for early 2006.

In the meantime, public comments on the proposed toll increase on the Indiana Toll Road may be submitted to INDOT by mailing them to:

Chris Kiefer
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N Senate Ave , Room N758
Indianapolis , IN 46204

Comments also can be sent via e-mail to ckiefer@indot.state.in.us, or by fax to (317) 232-0238.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
keith_goble@landlinemag.com

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