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Panel recommends highway projects, indexed gas tax

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The state should index its gas tax to increase with inflation, build a new bypass around Indianapolis, and consider user fees to supplement highway funding, a transportation panel said in its recommendations Wednesday.

The group – appointed by Gov. Mike Pence – detailed a funding crisis facing the state: Revenue from the state’s gas taxes are falling as cars become more fuel efficient, but the cost of building roads is increasing.

Still, the funding issues didn’t stop the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure from proposing new highway projects. It said the state needs to add lanes on Interstates 65 and 70, build an I-69 bridge over the Ohio River and improve its rail and port infrastructure.

And the group said the so-called Commerce Connector in Central Indiana is “a high priority, critical project because of its ability to facilitate the movement of freight and passenger traffic into and around Indianapolis,” particularly at bottleneck locations including the intersection of I-69 and I-465 on the northeast side.

“We do believe we are the Crossroads of America and transportation is ripe for transformation in Indiana,” said Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, a co-chair of the panel.

The group recommended projects using a three-tier system, with the first tier having the highest priority. That list included projects associated with I-69 and I-70, along with the Commerce Connector and an Ohio River bridge over I-69.

The second tier includes the construction of a four-lane, limited access highway from the southwest corner of the state, providing more transportation and a better route between Mount Vernon and I-69.

And the conversion of U.S. 30 to interstate status is a part of the second tier projects.

The third tier projects include the construction of another road in and out of Burns Harbor in Northwest Indiana, along with a road connecting Madison to I-65.

The report did not recommend specific funding for specific projects. However, it noted that the state’s current funding method isn’t working.

Much of the state’s transportation funding comes from an 18-cent per gallon tax on gasoline. But revenue from that tax has been decreasing, even though Hoosiers are traveling roughly the same number of vehicle miles. That’s because as cars get more fuel efficient, drivers use less gas to go the same distance.

At the same time, the cost of building roads is increasing, the panel said.

Indexing the tax means it would go up as inflation rises, which could generate more money for state highway construction.

The report also said the state should consider user fees. It said that could include a fee on alternative fuel vehicles – which generate even less revenue through the state’s gas tax – but the panel said it was not making that recommendation.

“We are not recommending specific solutions,” said Co-Chair Cathy Langham, president of Langham Logistics. “These are just concepts to form the guardrails of funding discussions.”

The group also proposed that the state:

– Increase the length of semi-trailers permitted on highways from 53 feet to 57 feet to increase payload per truck;

– Mandate trailers have three axles instead of two to reduce the weight per axle by approximately 50 percent and reduce road damage;

– Designate high-occupancy lanes to encourage more passengers per vehicle;

– Revise state law to allow for driverless vehicles.

Langham and Ellspermann said five meetings were held around the state with the primary goal of planning for the future.

“If you are the Crossroads of America, you better have the roads to back it up,” Pence said.

He said the next step is to figure out when to do it and how to do it.

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  • Dream on
    why are businesses continueing to leave? Real estate is flat. I base my opinion on economic reality, not talking points. I still own land there.
  • Correct
    Indiana is #2 in the country on Diesel fuel tax behind California. We are #6 in Gasoline tax. Indiana is alreay beyond the "inflation index" of other states. Why not spend tax money like a conservative state and solve the fiscal issues instead of remoing the constituants disposable income!
  • Reality Vs Right-wing talking points
    Carbinecat, California is actually doing quite well. Might be time to leave the right-wing echo chamber and add some non-partisan sources of information.
    • California Dreaming
      I lived in California and they had many of the things noted in the proposed suggestions from the "Blue Ribbon Panel". California is near financial collapse now. Let's not turn the great state of Indiana into a third world dump like California.
    • What About the Lottery?
      I thought Indiana had all the funding it needed for everything. That's why the state lottery and casino gambling were allowed, as the new tax revenue would take care of everything the state wanted to do.The recommendations sound like they came from California. Better think about that. What is the financial condition of that state?
    • Why do the Rodneys hate cities?
      Rodney, your proposal would get a big fat F from anyone with a clue in urban planning. If it were up to you, Indy would look like Detroit, which is one city where it really was all turned to limited access. And see what Detroit looks like! Several cities have actually removed segments of their downtown interstates because they realized how much limited access highways obliterate land values near by, and those cities--unlike Indy (God forbid)--actually have something resembling mass transit. Thankfully, your proposal is dead in the water, and we can only hope the same can be said about an "outer loop" commerce connector, which will do little more than render Marion County's logistics industry obsolete.
    • Interstates
      @ Rodney - No, the interstates would absolutely still exist, but they would exist only to do what they were originally intended to do, which is move people quickly between the outskirts of two places, then gradually narrow and slow as they turn into surface streets when they reach the edge of whatever town/city they are entering. Limited access highways in the middle of otherwise densely developed areas create a huge opportunity cost for development and seriously detract from the quality of life of the neighborhoods around them.
    • I-69
      Why is it necessary for some people to always pull out the race card? Yes, some areas that are blighted by abandoned houses are better off being torn down and having other uses. Binford down to Keystone is decent, we just need to finish the job. It's not fair to Indianapolis for other areas to get all the new interstate construction.
    • Road taxes
      Already taxed by the gallon plus a proposed tax by the mile this has to be a joke. How are the out of state people who use the roads going to be tracked and billed? Can't afford to keep the roads we have repaired but yet we build more. Stop the nonsense.
      • I-69
        Downtown resident, if it were up to people like you, there would be no interstates. The route for I-69 through the city doesn't necessarily have to cut through nicer areas like Herron Morton and the Old Northside. Honestly, some areas I-69 would cut through would be better off paved.
      • Unbelievable
        That's right Rodney, let's extend I-69 to downtown. Then we can pave a highway over those useless areas of the city like Fall Creek, the Old Northside, and Herron Morton. What are a few old houses when you can shave five minutes off your commute!
      • I-69
        They need to complete I-69 and have it run through downtown instead of using the same route at I-465. That will cut down on a lot of the congestion at I-69 and I-465 on the northeast side.
        • A voice of reason
          Well said, Concerned Citizen. Sometimes thoughtful comments are shared. Unfortunately, most of today's comments were, as you pointed out, biased and uninformed. Unfortunately, that sounds like the crowd IBJ has been looking for over the last several years.
        • Concerned Citizen?
          Concerned Citizen? More like Concerned Highway Lobbyist...
        • More Information
          1. IBJ should link to the referenced report. We are in the age of electronic media...not sharing information is lazy. Here is a link http://www.in.gov/gov/files/Blue_Ribbon_Panel_Report_July_9_2014.pdf 2. The article should provide more clarity about the make-up of this panel. The commenters are making this item out to be partisan, it does not appear the panel is partisan. Here is a list of the panel which appears to be balanced with different SME to add different perspectives http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=138116?formation_id=189603 3. It suggests a by-pass, I do not see where this report suggests another "loop". 4. Henry, based on your kneejerk reaction, we would be better off if you moved to another state unless your post was meant as sarcasm in which case I say Well Done. 5. The article and report actually indicates need to improve rail and port infrastructure in direct contradiction to Shayla commentary. Specifically, recommendation is to consider passenger rail projects... 6. People have a voice with their elected officials. These are suggestions and do not represent "crony capitalism", etc. The report needs to be analyzed and the legislature can decide on priorities and spending. Don't like it, then vote in a new legislature but quit artificially creating issues where there are none! People need to sift through the politics and provide constructive criticism to the process rather than making uninformed comments in a public forum based on misinformation. IBJ should work harder to correct the record in these forums when blatant errors or misrepresentations are made.
        • THAT'S IT!!!
          I am moving to a different state!!!
        • FOOLS
          We are governed by idiots and crooks. Fortunately I did not vote for any of these boobs (except Glenda Ritz, and look what the boobs are doing to her.)
        • Fuel Tax
          Understand increases, but a tax which can change often can be an accounting nightmare for small business fuel companies as well as owner operators and trucking companies. I would know because I own one!
        • Light Rail for me!
          I have to agree with the folks who are calling this decision short-sighted. Must we always continue to do things as we have always done them? This panel should not have "transportation" as part of their name. It's the "cars and trucks and roads only" panel.
        • Highway lobby controls State leadership
          Let me get this straight. We can't afford to maintain existing road infrastructure and are faced with a diminishing tax base, so the solution is to raise taxes and build NEW roads? Of course, you can always count on Indiana State representatives to be oblivious to what is happening in the rest of the world, but come on...they still think road building is the key to economic prosperity? This is a great example of stupidity mixed with corruption.
        • Knuckleheads
          An outer loop is a terrible idea. They refuse to look at light rail, a proven economic boost to areas near transit stops, an instead want another useless road at a cost of 2 billion. Unbelievable! This anti-Indianapolis approach is wearing thin. Help places like Anderson, Muncie, Greenfield, and Franklin with rail not a stupid loop. They are clueless.
        • Crony Capitalism
          The Republican party is crony capitalism at its absolute worst. The only people this plan would benefit would be the highway lobby. And where is the outrage about this from the Tea Party? Is their outrage only reserved for spending plans from people of a certain pigment?
        • VMT
          So the article admits that total vehicle miles traveled has stayed relatively flat in Indiana (although it's declining nationally), but we need to add more capacity and throw additional money at a transportation model that provides a poor ROI? . This makes zero sense for everyone except for the road construction companies, highway lobbyists, and the politicians with their hands in the cookie jar.
        • Running circles around ourselves.....
          I guess I'm confused. We built I-465 to loop around the city at that time and connect the other major interstates. As all highways do, I-465 pulled sprawling, low-intensity development to its edges and people chose to drive the difference creating traffic on interstates which shouldn't be built for local commuters. Now, they want to toss a few billion (will be much more than $2B) at the same idea further out? It is embarrassing to hear that a group of people voted on these recommendations. I can't wait until this goes to a vote! The story even admits that vehicle miles have remained flat, yet we are doubling our interstate presence? Tolled Truck lanes should be added to I-65 and perhaps I-70. HOV lanes could be added to I-465 and I-69. I wish we had someone in charge to actually think about a transportation system and not just funding their highway lobbyists. And no, this doesn't bring jobs. Minor construction jobs are created during the project, then they go away and usually it is people from out of state. Just bad.....so bad.
        • Why?
          This group of politicians recognizes that the state needs more transportation infrastructure an at the same time flat out refuses to look at rail or bus rapid transit. Building a second bypass around Indianapolis is the possibly the worst transit idea the city could endorse. Maybe it's second only to the idea to turn West Street / MLK into an interstate. If you want to spend 2+ BILLION dollars on infrastructure let's upgrade the rail line to Chicago and make it a 90 minute trip. If we simply cannot afford to give all that tax money to anyone but the road construction companies (read: campaign contributors) then let's use the 2B to bury the north south stretch of I70/I65 as it cuts through downtown.
        • Good Job
          This is badly needed for our city and state. An efficient transportation system is vital to the economy of any area and Indianapolis does hold a central role in the Midwest. Funding these projects will be expensive, adding tolls to the mix might help. The jobs created and the opportunities for the economy to benefit makes this win for Indiana.
        • Double standard taxation
          Interesting. The "inevitable tax burden" on hoosiers was why republicans banned light rail in the mass transit bill. I guess the concept of a "tax burden" doesn't apply when discussing roads that are becoming more expensive to build. These officials are trying to save us from ourselves, but who's going to save us from them?
        • $2 BILLION?!
          I just read in the IndyStar article about this panel that the proposed outer loop would be almost $2 billion! Yet, these same Republicans throw a fit about Indianapolis asking for a chance to just even vote to have expanded bus transit and pay for it entirely by ourselves. Truly incredible.
        • Republican panel?
          Gotta love these tax and spend Republicans! A second beltway around Indianapolis?! Are you freaking kidding me?

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        1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

        2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

        3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

        4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

        5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............

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