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July 16, 2014

Commission turns in ‘wish list’ for road, bridge work

Infrastructure funding dropping for state's transit arteries

INDIANAPOLIS — A panel of public and private officials is calling for $10 billion in projects to upgrade the state’s aging roads and bridges, but its members concede there’s no money to pay for it all.

On July 9, Gov. Mike Pence’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure released a long wish list of “critical” projects that includes adding travel lanes to the state’s most crowded arteries — Interstates 65 and 70 — as they pass through rural areas.

Also on the list of projects deemed essential to the state’s economic growth are improving Interstate 69 across the Ohio River bridge in southwest Indiana, and a new four-lane divided highway to loop around Indianapolis so that drivers can avoid the crowded bypass that already exists.

Pence, who appointed the commission last year, praised its work as a step toward improving the state’s infrastructure.

“If you’re going to welcome people to Indiana with signs that say we’re the ‘Crossroads of America,’ you better have the roads to back it up,” he said.

But Pence acknowledged that funding remains elusive. He said the state Department of Transportation is engaged in a two-year study of road needs and ways to pay for them.

The panel’s report notes about $600 million of the $1 billion annual highway fund is spent just to maintain the current road system.

And the pot is getting smaller.

“Taking care of what we have is becoming increasingly difficult due to declining revenues,” the panel reported. “Long-term revenue forecasts for the state highway fund indicate that the revenue is not sustainable over the long term.”

Road revenues, taken from the gas tax, are dropping for two reasons — less travel by motorists and better fuel mileage.

The panel called on the Legislature to consider new sources of funding including a new “user fee” added to the cost of a license plate. The panel asked lawmakers to stop diverting current gas-tax revenues into the general fund. And it asked legislators to consider a new “vehicle miles traveled tax,” which would require drivers to install a device to track mileage, with a tax tied to how far they’ve traveled.

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