Indiana News

Indiana eyes ways to reverse declining highway funding

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana lawmakers are eyeing a slew of possible revenue sources they might tap to reverse declining funding for new highway projects and upgrades to the heavily-traveled highways and bridges that helped give the state its “Crossroads of America” nickname.

Indiana isn’t alone in dealing with a shrinking pot of money for its transportation infrastructure.Federal gasoline tax revenue has grown little since 2007 as vehicle fuel-efficiency rises, hybrid and electric cars become increasingly common and people cut back on driving. State-level gas tax revenues, including Indiana’s, are also on the decline even as the need is mounting for highway, road and bridge upgrades.State Rep. Ed Soliday, who chairs the Indiana House’s transportation committee, said concrete highways last only three to four decades before they need be rebuilt from the ground up, and asphalt roads are only good for about 12 years in Indiana’s freeze-and-thaw climate.“We are at a point where we need to start rebuilding the infrastructure our grandparents and our parents built for us. And we need to look it straight in the eye, or we’re going to hand it to our grandchildren,” said Soliday, R-Valparaiso.Money flowing to Indiana from the beleaguered Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is financed by taxes paid on gasoline and diesel fuel, fell 5 percent from 2008-2013 to $946 million. That’s about 1.5 percentage points more than the nationwide decline, according to federal figures.Indiana’s gas tax revenue has also fallen for the past decade, dropping from about $582 million in 2004 to about $527 million last year.Amid that dwindling revenue, a report released last year by the Indiana Department of Transportation showed that the agency needs nearly $260 million more a year to maintain existing bridges and highways.INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said that funding gap represents the difference between current funding levels and the levels that an agency survey found Indiana residents “think is appropriate in terms of road and bridge condition.”Wingfield said that 364 of Indiana’s 5,624 state-maintained bridges are currently rated “poor” based on one element of their structure.Soliday said the state’s transportation funding gap only pertains to existing state-maintained bridges and highways, and doesn’t even consider the needs to local highway departments responsible for maintaining thousands of county roads and bridges.

A consultant hired by INDOT is currently reviewing the costs of four big-ticket highway projects – widening Interstates 65 and 70 to six lanes across their Indiana portions, building the final segment of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis Interstate 69 extension that will link Martinsville and Indianapolis, and a looping highway that would connect central Indiana’s major interstates and communities.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that study will also take a hard look at revenue options for those and other highway projects.

Kenley said those include increasing the state’s 18 cents-a-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 2002, and a new license plate tax that would address the growing number of hybrid vehicles and electric cars, and become in essence a highway user fee on everyone who buys a motor vehicle.

The INDOT study will also consider the feasibility of a highway user fee based on the mileage of each vehicle – a proposal Kenley said has generated considerable resistance in states where it’s been tried.

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“But the way you overcome the resistance is by providing the justification. And that’s where the study comes in,” the Noblesville Republican said.

Kenley said finding transportation funding solutions is probably more critical to Indiana than other states because the Hoosier State is the hub for several heavily-traveled interstate highways that crisscross the state.

Wingfield said the consultant’s study results are expected later this year.

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