The funding plan drafted by Indiana House Republicans for long-term road improvements would allow the state to explore options for tolling along some highways to address an expected drop in gas tax revenue.
The plan, announced this month, has drawn attention for its call for an immediate 10-cent increase in the state gas tax to pay for long-term infrastructure projects. But the bill also includes language about tolling, including the possibility of Indiana applying for a federal waiver to place tolls on interstate highways.
If approved, the plan would not require any future vote on tollways by lawmakers once a specific tolling plan is in place. Instead, it would leave that up to the discretion of the governor.
By 2021, the revenue generated by the state's gas tax is expected to begin declining, said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. He said tolling is a funding option for road improvements.
"We have to fill that gap, and tolling is a way," he told The Journal Gazette.
Soliday said tolling is a way to get money from out-of-state drivers who might not stop for gas while driving through Indiana. However, tolling would also affect the 75 percent of drivers who live Indiana and would be paying both at the pump and the toll booth.
The House plan's options include adding tolling on current interstates, which would require federal approval. Another option would be adding more lanes to highways and replacing bridges on interstates, and then tolling the entire roadway. A third idea in the legislation is for Indiana to add truck-only toll lanes.
Discussions about tolling have generally focused on interstates 65 and 70, where congestion is a concern. So far, Interstate 69 has not been included in the conversation.
Under the House bill, the Indiana Department of Transportation would have to submit a request to the Federal Highway Administration for a waiver to toll highway lanes. INDOT would also have to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study on tolling, including tolling rates, vehicle counts and traffic diversion.
The Indiana Motor Truck Association would be open to a discussion on tolling for new capacity, but adding tolls for existing infrastructure is a non-starter, said Gary Langston, the association's president.
Langston said there has been much discussion of truck-only lanes but not much progress, and his members continue to support using the fuel tax.
"We have to do everything we can to be able to move freely and move commerce," he said. "Congestion is a major issue for us. It's really expensive to be sitting and not able to move."