Although a new study shows that Indiana could reap billions of revenue dollars by adding toll lanes to interstates, it does 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, the toll bridges at Jeffersonville or the Indiana Toll Road in northern Indiana.
But any toll lanes after that could be fair game.
The 75-mile limit was a compromise involving southern Indiana and Kentucky officials who predicted Indiana businesses would relocate south of the Ohio River.
“I think the number was epiphanal,” said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the Roads and Transportation committee. “The 75 miles…it says the first one you toll won’t be right on top of the bridge.”
The Federal Highway Administration places limits on using toll revenue for new construction. Revenues are generally limited to repayments of financing for a project, operations and maintenance. Indiana’s recent 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the state’s gasoline tax is to be used for maintenance and prevention, not new construction.
“So if you want six lanes on [Interstate] 65 and you probably need eight, the only way you’re getting them is if you toll,” Soliday said.
The tolling study is a first in that it also looks at whether drivers will divert from an interstate to avoid paying tolls. It finds 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 vary 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 assumes that passenger vehicles would pay 4 cents a mile; light/medium trucks, 6 cents a mile; and heavy trucks, 19 cents a mile. The $600,000 tolling feasibility study of six interstates, prepared for the Indiana Department of Transportation, was given for review to Gov. Eric Holcomb this week.
The study shows there is an 85 percent chance that revenues would exceed $39 billion from 2021 to 2050. There’s a 50 percent chance a toll system would exceed $53 billion, according to the study by HDR Inc. The 75-mile buffer zone wasn’t considered as part of the study, said Scott Manning, Strategic Communications Director for INDOT.
Instead, HDR Inc. was instructed to look at the interstate system-wide, he said.
“The strategic plan for implementation is where you would develop what the rates would be and where the specific toll points would be,” Manning said. “The feasibility study doesn’t reach that depth.”
But I-65, I-69, I-64 and I-94 all have portions within 75 miles of existing toll lanes.
That may leave I-70 as the first test for tolling segments, sources said, possibly to pay for needed road repairs.
An earlier INDOT study found that I-70 between Indianapolis and Ohio would be deficient for drivers by 2020 due to road conditions and use. Similarly, the report found future deficiency along I-70 between Indianapolis and Ind. 39 as well as I-65 north of I-465 and I-65 north of Columbus, among other stretches.
But tolling may also be a last resort in also funding maintenance, some legislators sense.
“The issue is in 2021 the revenue from sales from gasoline and diesel sales falls off like a rock and it keeps falling into the 2030s,” Soliday said. ‘‘When you look at what are our alternatives to fill that gap and you sure don’t want to use the general fund because you’re taking money out of education so user-pay is where we’re at, and there’s only so many tools available.”