Generally speaking, user fees make more sense than general taxes that draw money from people who don’t necessarily use the resources the revenue supports.
Property taxes are a classic example of a general tax. Toll charges on roadways are a good example of a user fee.
The state of Indiana is moving toward a dramatic expansion of tolling on interstates within its borders. In the sense that it would place a larger share of the funding burden on users of the interstates, it’s a good idea.
Last week, the results of a feasibility study were released to Gov. Eric Holcomb for review. The study was commissioned by the Indiana General Assembly, which is taking a long, hard look at adding tolls to interstates across the Hoosier state. The Indiana Department of Transportation has been charged with delivering a strategic plan for implementation to the General Assembly’s budget committee by Dec. 1, 2018. The feasibility study indicates interstate tolling could reap a bonanza of revenue for the state, somewhere from $39 billion
to $53 billion during a 30-year stretch beginning in 2021. The money could be used for road maintenance and infrastructure building projects. It would be a safeguard against an anticipated decline in gasoline tax revenue over the next few decades.
Still, many Hoosiers are opposed to road tolling. A recent poll question at heraldbulletin.com asked: Based on a toll ranging from 4 cents to 6.5 cents per mile, would you be willing to pay anywhere from $1.40 to $2.20 to drive from Anderson to I-465 via I-69? Of 133 respondents, 111 answered “no.”
That’s a natural knee-jerk reaction: “Why would I pay money for something that I currently do for free?”
Well, of course, you’re not really using the interstate for free. Your gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees are used for highway expenses in Indiana.
Others might remember the privatization of toll roads in the northern part of the state and have concerns about possible corruption that road tolling could encourage. And some would object to potential further road work on I-69
after the current project to add lanes has caused traffic delays and anxiety for motorists.
Still others oppose the concept of road tolling because of perceived inconvenience. They don’t want to wait in a line of cars to hand cash to tool booth workers or toss change into a bin.
While state officials want to keep a range of options open for collecting tolls, some are far more convenient than the traditional methods. You could buy an annual pass for unlimited use of the toll road, speeding you along your merry way in an express lane. Or the state could adopt a camera-and-billing system that would record your vehicle’s travel on a tool road and send you a bill.
The feasibility study is just a first tentative step toward the expansion of tolling to I-69 and other interstates across Hoosier land. But it shows great potential to help Indiana elevate the quality of its highways and other infrastructure by charging fees to people, including those from out of state, who use the resources.