Gov. Mitch Daniels is looking for private
investors to take over the Indiana Toll Road.
In the meantime, plans are to go ahead and
hike tolls along the 157-mile route by as much as 120 percent for large trucks
and 72 percent for cars. The state also will look into how to keep truckers off
The initiatives are part of the governor’s
10-year, $10.6 billion statewide construction plan dubbed “Major Moves.”
To pay for the plan, the state is
preparing for offers by several private firms to lease the Indiana Toll Road
for 75 years, Daniels said. Bids for the lease are due by Jan. 20.
“There’s a good chance that again, we’ll
be offered money that we could not generate in this state without doubling the
gas tax, or doing something equally unthinkable,” the Republican governor told WISE-TV in Fort Wayne.
The lease amount – estimated at more than
$2 billion – would help the state to cover a gap of $2.8 billion needed for
road and bridge work throughout the state for the next decade as well as
possibly pay for an extension of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville.
In return for taking over operation and
maintenance of the toll road, a private group would keep the revenue from
Any leasing plans would require approval
from the Indiana General Assembly. With that in mind, Rep. Randy Borror, R-Fort
Wayne, will be carrying the governor’s plan.
Sen. Marvin Riegsecker, R-Goshen, said
leasing the toll road would be a tough sell to lawmakers.
The Indiana Democratic Party recently
launched an online petition to prevent Daniels from leasing the toll road.
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.
Nearly 20 states 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 governor said toll rates have not
increased since 1985 and no longer meet maintenance needs.
Increases on the toll road would vary by
distance driven. The toll for tractor-trailers traveling from the Illinois line
to Ohio would increase from $14.55 to $32. Passenger vehicle rates for driving
the same distance would rise from $4.65 to $8.
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.”
To help foot the bill, the state would
rely on in-state and out-of-state vehicles. Figures from the Indiana Department
of Transportation show that 66 percent of 2004 toll road revenues come from
out-of-state vehicles, 18 percent from in-state cars and 16 percent from
in-state truck traffic.
Concerns about higher toll fees are coming
from local government officials and trucking industry groups.
South Bend, IN, Mayor Steve Luecke said
he’s concerned about what would become of communities that rely on the toll
road to support industries like warehousing and distribution.
“My biggest concern is losing control of a
strong economic development asset, that tolls could rise too high, and make
some of our local distribution and trucking companies non competitive,” Luecke
told WNDU-TV in South Bend.
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.”
To guard against truckers diverting onto
nearby U.S. 20 to avoid higher fees, Daniels said the state could redesignate
the highway a state road. The change would enable weight limits to be put in
place that would prohibit large truck traffic.
“A lot of pains will be taken to ensure
there is not a diversion of traffic off the toll road,” Daniels told the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne.
Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory
affairs, said redesignating a U.S. federally funded highway as a state highway
is not a simple process.
Craig said the portion of the highway that
is part of the National Highway System would require authorization from the
Federal Highway Administration to make the switch and ban trucks. For the rest
of the road, a switch over simply would cost the state federal funding it now
Spencer said, “The fact there is such a
discussion (to reclassify the highway) points out what really is the underlying
agenda for toll roads: these are moneymakers. The trucks that operate on those
roads are nothing more than cash cows.”
The state’s transportation department is
expected to hold public hearings to discuss the governor’s plans early next
year. In the meantime, public comments on the proposed toll increase may be
submitted to INDOT by mailing them to:
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N Senate Ave, Room N758
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Comments also can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or
by fax to (317) 232-0238.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor