INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would establish new Indiana toll roads may not get out of committee without removing existing interstates from the mix, the committee chair said Tuesday.
“I have my own deep hesitancy about tolling existing interstates,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, who leads the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee. “I don’t anticipate moving a bill out of this committee that favors tolling of existing interstates. New lanes is a bit of a different story.”
Under House Bill 1002, funding for Indiana’s transportation infrastructure would be paid through user fees including a 10-cent a gallon gas tax increase, an additional $15 annual fee to register vehicles and the creation of new toll roads.
The bill passed the House 61-36 and now a vote in Hershman's committee, although amendments are expected next week. An estimated $1.2 billion is needed to maintain road infrastructure.
Hershman’s comments followed a three-and-a-half hour public hearing with his committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Transportation Committee.
Much of the testimony echoed what had been presented previously in the House.
Business and construction representatives spoke in favor of the bill, while taxpayer advocacy groups spoke against individual elements. None argued against the need to fund the state’s aging transportation infrastructure.
Aaron Smith, who founded the Watchdog Indiana group in Lebanon, said the bill had 10 taxpayer-friendly elements, in addition to six that were neutral and four unfriendly qualities.
“The proposed $15 annual transportation infrastructure improvement fee is taxpayer unfriendly," he said. "The new fee would not be a true user fee because the fee amount is not directly proportional to the number of miles driven.
“The $15 fee would be paid by the young pharmaceutical salesman residing in Carmel who earns $250,000 a year and driving his brand new Lexus thousands of miles through Indiana," he added. "The same $15 annual fee would be paid by the widow living in Lebanon and surviving on Social Security and driving her 1997 Olds 98 twice a week to the grocery store and church.”
He also questioned the bill’s provision taking the authority of establishing toll roads from the General Assembly and giving it to the governor.
“It is more difficult for vested interests to use campaign contributions to influence 150 members of the General Assembly than it is to get toll road approval from just the governor,” Smith said.
Users of diesel fuel also spoke against the proposed increase from 16 cents a gallon to 26 cents.
Scott Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, said diesel prices including a surcharge would be 20 cents to 38 cents higher than neighboring states.
“Given that a truck can travel more than 1,600 miles before refueling Indiana can be easily bypassed,” Imus said.
Hershman said the committee would hear amendments next week.
“I think there are few questions that remain," he said. "There may be differences of opinion on how to get there, but the broad, broad consensus that I heard today was that the investment in our transportation infrastructure is needed.
“It’s vital and that the only discussion that really remains is the individual funding components.”