Indiana governor-appointed transportation panel reveals 'wish list'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, July 28, 2014

A “blue ribbon” panel created by the Indiana governor has unveiled its recommendations to upgrade the state’s roads and bridges. The group also offered proposals that cover trucking issues.

The announcement comes as state lawmakers have been unable to come up with funding sources as Indiana’s “Major Moves” initiative comes to an end. State officials have said that something must be done because money remaining from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels’ $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road is mostly spent or due to be spent for specific projects.

As a result, Indiana must again rely on the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon fuel tax to get needed transportation work done.

To make matters worse, state officials point out that more fuel efficient vehicles and changing driving habits combined with increased costs of building roads continues to widen the funding gap.

The 23-member, statewide panel made up of public and private officials has spent the past year studying the state’s transportation needs. The group offered 25 recommendations related to priority projects, transportation funding, policy changes and strategies for Indiana to address future needs.

“The panel’s work has recognized several opportunities for the state to build on, and I hope that many of these ideas will encourage a broader conversation on the future of transportation infrastructure in this state,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a press release.

The panel’s top four priorities are widening rural Interstate 65 and I-70 across the state from four lanes to six lanes; building a four-lane “commerce connector” loop around Indianapolis; and building an I-69 bridge over the Ohio River near Evansville.

Funding methods were not offered for specific projects.

However, the panel called on state lawmakers to stop diverting fuel tax revenue to the state’s general fund. They also recommended that the Legislature index the state’s fuel tax to increase with inflation and consider a new vehicle-miles-traveled tax.

Also proposed by the group is increasing the length of tractor-trailers from 53 feet to 57 feet “to increase the payload per truck.” Other recommendations call for separate truck-only lanes and mandate trailers to have three axles instead of two “to reduce the weight per axles approximately 50 percent and, therefore, reduce damage to roads.”

The governor will work with state agencies that include the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Ports of Indiana to evaluate the list of recommendations.

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