INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana has the will — Gov. Eric Holcomb continues to make transportation infrastructure a priority, with his “Next Level” agenda that pledges $100 million for it.
But the way, or part of it, might be a challenge, with trucking groups presenting legal challenges to toll increases on the Indiana Toll Road.
Federally, infrastructure repairs are claiming a bigger stage as failures – from a cracked steel beam supporting a heavily-traveled bridge in downtown Chicago, to crumbling roads across the country – dominate headlines.
One sector of the U.S. trucking industry, represented by the American Trucking Association, offered a funding plan.
“Trucking pays for nearly half the Highway Trust Fund and we’re willing to pay more,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the ATA. Spears was testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The “Build America Fund” is an industry plan that would increase gas taxes for gasoline and diesel by 20 cents per gallon. The plan would phase in the tax increases, starting with a 5-cent increase and then moving to the full 20-cent increase by 2021 and continuing at 20 cents until 2027. The tax would be collected on motor fuel at the wholesale terminal rack, before the fuels reach the retail level. The ATA is promoting the tax increase as an alternative to increased tolling.
“The Build America Fund would increase the price of fuel 20 cents per gallon at the fuel rack – just a nickel a year over four years – generating $340 billion over 10 years. This new revenue is real, not fake funding like P3’s (public private partnerships) and asset recycling,” Spear said.
In Indiana, Holcomb, along with the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. and the Indiana Finance Authority, is being sued over increased tolling on the Indiana Toll Road.
Holcomb announced in September 2018 that the state would receive $1 billion in exchange for raising tolls along the Indiana Toll Road. The toll increases affected semis, large trucks and trucks with trailers, but not passenger cars.
The Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. will make three payments to the state, totaling $1 billion by 2020, as part of the agreement that initiated the toll increase.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a class action lawsuit in January 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
The lawsuit charges that the 35 percent increase in tolls is burdensome and violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“The governor has admitted publicly that the increased tolls on truckers were intended for out-of-state users. He seems to think that, in his own words, ‘capturing other people’s money’ is okay. He would be very wrong about that. Truckers are not rolling piggy banks,” said Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA.
In November, Holcomb announced $100 million for the “Next Level Roads: Community Crossings Initiative” program. That program is a matching grant program that offers matching grant funds up to 50 percent of the cost of projects to cities and towns. In 2018, 283 communities received matching-grant funds through the program.
Holcomb also released, in his State of the State address, his 2019 Next Level agenda that includes major infrastructure projects, such as building out hiking and biking trails, accelerated completion of I-69 Section 6 and improving U.S. 20, U.S. 30 and U.S. 31 interchanges in northern Indiana, continuing development of a fourth port near Lawrenceburg and moving forward with the West Lake and South Shore rail projects.