INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb will not move forward with a plan to expand Indiana's toll system partly as a way to widen interstate highways.

"While I do not intend to move forward with the plan, there may be good reasons to revisit this report in the future," Holcomb wrote in a letter Thursday to members of the State Budget Committee.

"Traditional means of funding infrastructure will diminish sometime in the future and we must continue to analyze innovative funding methods to retain our position as a top state for highway infrastructure," Holcomb wrote. 

Holcomb was responding to an Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) plan that looked at tolling I-65, I-70 and I-94 which have the highest interstate traffic volumes. The report does not make a recommendation on whether to implement a statewide interstate tolling program.

INDOT also looked at pairing tolls with the widening of I-65 and I-70 outside of I-465 to six lanes from state border to border. The work would cost about $4.65 billion, which is more than four times INDOT's entire 2018 capital program. Tolling was evaluated in part to pay for the work.

The plan presents various scenarios based on differing rates. For example, a two-axle car going from Gary to Indianapolis on I-65 would have paid $10.57; a five-axle vehicle would pay $57.38.

Similarly, a trip from the Illinois state line to Indianapolis along I-70 would cost a two-axle vehicle $6.30. Indianapolis to Kentucky along I-65 would run $7.77 for a two-axle car.

By the year 2045, gross revenue was estimated at $807 million increasing to $1.4 billion for the highest rate. Interstates would lose at least 6 percent of the current traffic flow as Hoosiers diverted to state and local routes to avoid paying tolls.

The rates would have applied to vehicles equipped with transponders so they don't have to stop at toll stations. Rates would be higher for vehicles without a transponder.

As outlined in a letter sent to Holcomb by INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness, state highway revenue is expected to peak in the mid-2020s and then begin a consistent decline. McGuinness recommended that alternative funding options be sought that do not rely on increasing the state highway motor fuel excise tax.

In response to Holcomb's announcement, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said in a statement, "I appreciate the hard work that went into this strategic plan and support the governor’s assessment that additional tolling is not necessary in the foreseeable future.

"Last year, we passed a comprehensive and data-driven road funding plan, which significantly addresses state and local infrastructure needs. Our conservative approach is a model for other states, and positions Indiana to responsibly maintain and improve its infrastructure. While we have taken tremendous steps forward, we will continue to monitor future revenue projections and consider all options as our state’s needs change," Bosma said.

Holcomb's comments come as INDOT is holding town hall sessions to discuss its long-range plan through 2045. The plan notes that Indiana's current revenue levels for transportation will face a challenge in addressing future needs.

However, the plan does not assume new tolled facilities as future revenue sources, said Scott Manning, INDOT Strategic Communications Director.

The report estimates that $2.75 billion is currently planned as being available annually. The plan identifies $1 billion annually in pavement and bridge needs along with $7.5 billion in major corridor improvements.

Last month, lvl5, a company that creates high-definition maps for self-driving cars, ranked Indiana the third worst state for road quality. Florida was ranked first but only 37 states were rated. The ranking is based on selecting frames from videos and measuring road paint fading, pavement cracking, potholes and surface flatness.

Eight percent of Indiana's 96,571 miles of public roads are in poor condition, according to a 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Bad roads cost each Hoosier motorist $272 annually in car repairs.

Last year, a tolling feasibility study prepared for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) came to similar conclusions, showing the state could reap billions of revenue dollars from expanding the system. 

However, that report did not take into account a state provision that prohibits the first new toll road from being within 75 miles of an existing one.

That means that should the governor and Indiana General Assembly approve and find money for toll roads, the first one could not be within 75 miles of, for example, toll bridges at Jeffersonville or the Indiana Toll Road in northern Indiana.

But any toll lanes after that could be fair game.

Last year's 75-mile limit was a compromise involving southern Indiana and Kentucky officials who predicted Indiana businesses would flee to south of the Ohio River.

The 2017 study looked at whether drivers would divert from interstates to avoid paying tolls. It found that I-64 in southern Indiana could lose 22 percent of its vehicles due to tolling, with a loss of 14 percent along I-74, 11 percent along I-70 and 10 percent along I-69 and I-65.

Tolling scenarios varied with the highest toll at 6 cents per mile along I-64 to 4 cents a mile for the other routes. On an average, the study assumed that passenger vehicles would pay 4 cents a mile; light/medium trucks, 6 cents a mile; and heavy trucks, 19 cents a mile.

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