As legislators return to the Indiana Statehouse, passing an honestly balanced budget which responsibly funds critical priorities like education and public safety will be our top goal. But there is another priority this year which is critical for every Hoosier: adopting a long-term, sustainable funding plan for Indiana’s road infrastructure.

Few government policies touch so many aspects of Hoosiers’ daily lives. Indiana’s roads and bridges connect our homes, schools, offices, factories and farms, and are indispensable arteries for our manufacturing- and logistics-based economy. If transportation infrastructure is not placed on a fiscally sustainable path, Indiana’s current long-term economic competitiveness will be undermined. We can’t honestly call ourselves the Crossroads of America with infrastructure inadequate to meet Indiana’s 21st-century economic realities.

Indiana now ranks among the top manufacturing states in the nation and 80 percent of our manufactured goods are transported to worldwide markets across Hoosier highways. Four-fifths of Indiana’s communities are supplied solely by roads. In short, our manufacturing, agriculture, bioscience, pharmaceutical and logistics industries rely heavily on long-term investment in Hoosier roads and bridges for their economic success, and for ours. And, the projected need is significant.

To maintain our current roadways, finish the projects we have already started (like I-69) and build new road capacity for the next generation, the legislative task force charged with studying road funding this summer confirmed that our state highway system requires an average of $1.2 billion in additional annual funding over the next 20 years.

Thanks to our numerous job-creating tax cuts over the past decade, Indiana has the highest rated economy in the Midwest and healthy reserves. However, general fund moneys are already committed to other existing priorities. We need to increase road funding from those who use our state’s infrastructure in order to continue offering a safe, expanded transportation network. Ongoing funding obligations and deferred maintenance will continue to grow until the state faces a Hobsonian choice: an insurmountable funding cliff or job-killing infrastructure in sore need of repair.

Significant progress in infrastructure funding has been made over the last decade. In 2006, Mitch Daniel’s Major Moves Plan fully funded $11 billion in roadway projects and maintenance over 10 years. A fifth of our state’s bridges were rehabilitated or replaced and half of our state’s highways were resurfaced. Lawmakers have since improved ongoing funding by eliminating $140 million in annual diversions from gas taxes, which paid for non-road expenditures, and redirecting a third of the gas sales tax towards roads. Last year, lawmakers provided local communities with more funding tools, created a matching grant program that has already awarded $150 million for qualified local projects and incentivized local governments to adopt best practices for management and maintenance.

Unfortunately, current road funding tools are inadequate. Hoosier motorists have long understood fuel taxes are the dedicated funding mechanism for our state’s roads. The more we drive, the more we pay. Untouched since 2003 at 18 cents per gallon, our current gasoline tax has lost significant buying power due to inflation, improved fuel efficiency and alternatively-fueled vehicles. Diesel and interstate trucking fuel taxes haven’t been increased since 1988. As a user fee, Indiana’s current fuel taxes are insufficient; we must consider reasonable increases to provide a long-term funding solution.

Indiana’s road funding plan must be data-driven, comprehensive and sustainable. All user-related funding options must be on the table. Currently, the average Hoosier motorist pays just $19 per month in road-funding taxes. Put in perspective, average monthly bills for cell phone service ($53) and cable television ($60) are considerably higher. We need to restore the principle that users truly pay for the provision of a valuable asset – one that is key to our future prosperity.

If we balk at this challenge, future generations will continue to inherit mountains of debt in deferred maintenance, backlogged projects and bond payments that outlive the assets financed. Indiana’s current road conditions already cost the average Hoosier motorist $491 in annual repairs. If a long-term plan is not adopted, congestion, delays, frustration and costs will only increase. The cost of living and doing business in Indiana will creep upward and Indiana’s current uber-competitiveness will slip. Ultimately, the heaviest cost of inaction will be foregone economic growth as job creators and investors take their employment opportunities and tax revenues elsewhere.

To Indiana’s founders, infrastructure was a core function of government. They aptly referred to turnpikes and bridges as “internal improvements” and placed responsibility for those improvements squarely on the shoulders of the General Assembly. Today, they constitute essential investments in our state’s future economic success. Anticipating the next 200 years of statehood after celebrating our bicentennial, we Hoosiers must renew our commitment to remaining the Crossroads of America.

Indiana House Speaker Brian C. Bosma of Indianapolis represents a portion of Marion, Hamilton and Hancock counties. He is the longest serving Speaker in Indiana’s history.

Story Continues Below