How Much Are You Willing to Pay For Good Roads?

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The debate is underway at the Indiana General Assembly about 2017 priorities. It’s a budget year, so there is a long line of worthy endeavors hoping they find a spot in the biennial budget. Legislators are left with the task of prioritizing the State spending and ensuring the long term financial stability of the State.

Perhaps no issue will get more attention than infrastructure funding. Experts estimate our roads and bridges need close to $1 billion more annually for upkeep. That really would allow us only to take care of what we have, additional dollars would be needed for new projects.

The simple truth is there is no way to accomplish this goal without it costing you and me a little more money. A variety of proposals are out there that seek to collect the needed funding from a variety of different sources. As with any proposal to raise taxes or fees, it likely will face some opposition. At the same time, it is expected many will step forward now in support. I’m one that believes the time is now to fund the State’s 20 year transportation plan.

The tolling of existing interstates will be one option that is studied. I’m a believer in this “user” fee, when I want the speed and convenience of the toll road, I utilize it. I think others around the State would follow suit. The Indiana Toll Road helped us pay for 20 Years of transportation needs. New toll roads will help address the next 20.

Certainly the easiest section of interstate to toll would be that twenty four mile section of I-80 between the west end of the Indiana Toll Road at Portage and the Illinois state line. Some might argue that users through this corridor are already used to tolling through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Critics might argue that those in the north part of the state have already paid a disproportionate share with the toll road being in existence since the 1950’s and it’s time to look toward other parts of the state.

Tolling an existing interstate roadway won’t be popular or easy to do, but could very quickly raise the kind of funds necessary to fund state transportation needs. It remains to be seen whether elected officials will have the appetite to initiate such difficult change.

Without a tolling plan, additional pressure is placed on other funding options like an increase in the gas tax. Such a change was easier to consider a month ago when gas prices were closer to $2.00 per gallon then they might be now with gas prices averaging about $2.30 per gallon. The last time the gas tax was adjusted was 14 years ago. A change this time around should include indexing the tax to inflation. A $.10 increase would add about $4.00 to the average users monthly bill.

Additional annual fees on vehicle registrations will also be considered, including a statewide infrastructure improvement with a significant amount for electric vehicles that now don’t pay much of a gas tax but utilize the roadways.

It won’t get easier or cheaper to fix this long term need. A balanced approach is necessary and widespread support will be necessary. Contact your legislators now and share your preferences for how to best solve this need.

Jeff Rea is chief executive officer of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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