Pence appoints panel to develop transportation plan

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced Thursday he will turn planning for the state’s “next generation” of transportation infrastructure over to a panel that will be co-chaired by the lieutenant governor and an industry official.

Pence made the announcement at the 2013 Indiana Logistics Summit in Indianapolis, although it was part of the Roadmap for Indiana that Pence used in his campaign for governor last year.

“We know that our transportation infrastructure provides Indiana with a dynamic advantage over other states,” Pence said, according to a statement. “With the expertise and recommendations of this blue ribbon panel, Indiana will keep its finger on the pulse of infrastructure innovation and strive to provide businesses and Hoosiers with the most efficient transportation system available.”

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and Cathy Langham, president of Langham Logistics, will co-chair the panel.  Additional members will be announced in the coming weeks.

The announcement comes as highway funding from the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road – part of a program former Gov. Mitch Daniels dubbed Major Moves – runs out.

Highway funding has essentially returned to what Department of Transportation officials call “historic funding levels,” which means the state will have the same sources of cash as it did before Major Moves.

Those revenue streams total more than $3 billion during the two-year cycle, including revenue from state and federal gasoline taxes.

But though drivers are traveling roughly the same number of miles across the state’s highways, they are purchasing less gas and therefore paying less in gas taxes. That will reduce the amount of money available to fix existing roads and match federal revenue available for new highways.

Federal officials are also dealing with declining revenue available for highway projects.

The combination of issues has made transportation funding a hot-button issue in Indiana and across the nation.

On Thursday, Pence outlined three guiding principles for transportation infrastructure in Indiana: Taking care of what the state has, finishing what it starts and planning for the future.

The new blue ribbon panel will be charged with reviewing projects related to four modes of transportation: water, air, road and rail, the governor’s office said. The group is to establish a set of metrics and identify a list of priority projects for development in the next 10 years.

For the longer term, the group will “explore and monitor innovations in transportation infrastructure to keep Indiana on the cutting edge,” the office said.

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