Should state have more toll roads?

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Most people agree Indiana has an infrastructure problem, but there isn’t a consensus on what to do about it. Gov. Mike Pence has proposed a $1 billion spending plan for the state’s highways and bridges. House Democrats have a competing $2 billion plan that would include county highways.

Both are temporary solutions, relying on one-time money spent over four years. What is needed is a long-term solution that is built on a permanent source of funding.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, thinks he has at least part of the solution: Turn interstate highways going through Indiana into toll roads. Initial estimates project Indiana could collect $365 million a year by tolling Interstate 65 and Interstate 70 across the state.

A recent study commissioned by the General Assembly concluded Indiana needs about $1 billion a year to maintain state roads and bridges. Local governments annually need to come up with $580 million to keep their highways in fair shape.

There are a lot of things that are attractive about toll roads. They guarantee that the people who use the roads the most pay the most to maintain them. They make sure out-of-staters who drive through Indiana pay their fair share of the upkeep. They provide a steady source of income for maintenance and repairs.

But there are things to dislike, too. Call it a user fee if you want to, but a toll is really a form of taxation.

So motorists on toll roads are getting taxed twice for the same thing, once through the toll and once through gasoline taxes. Toll roads foster corruption and political patronage, and just providing the toll-collection infrastructure can take up to one-third of the intake. And they are, quite frankly, a pain to drive on.

Soliday has said his committee will look at all options, and that, of course, is a good idea, considering the state of our roads. The gas tax is no longer sufficient, and automobile fuel efficiency is only going to get better. But the toll road idea deserves close examination and thorough debate.

One idea the committee should certainly explore is giving counties more flexibility to solve their own infrastructure problem. Let them come up with their own funding ideas (even if it includes a new tax), and give them the authority to implement them.

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