INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb will not take action to toll Indiana's interstate highways during his tenure in office, a decision that a key Region lawmaker believes betrays the goals of the state road funding plan Holcomb enacted last spring.
The Republican chief executive on Thursday transmitted to the State Budget Committee an interstate tolling plan crafted by the Indiana Department of Transportation, as required by House Enrolled Act 1002 sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.
The plan details how the state could collect approximately $15 billion for road improvements between 2024 and 2045 by imposing tolls of up to 7 cents per mile for cars, and up to 38 cents per mile for semi-trailer trucks, on Interstate 94 in Northwest Indiana and Interstates 65 and 70 across the length and width of the state.
But in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the report, Holcomb said there currently is no need for interstate tolling, as the fuel tax and vehicle registration fee increases approved last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly are enough to sustain the state's current road construction blitz.
"Therefore, I will not move forward with a plan to toll Indiana's interstate highways," Holcomb said.
At the same time, Holcomb urged lawmakers to keep the tolling plan handy, since "I do not want to foreclose a successor from considering tolling as an option for infrastructure improvements."
Holcomb said to that end INDOT still is permitted to seek the federal approvals required to initiate interstate tolling, even though it won't be implemented on his watch.
Soliday condemned Holcomb's decision to postpone a tolling start until potentially 2025, when a second Holcomb term would end, and suggested that "maybe he needs a successor sooner rather than later."
The former House Roads and Transportation Committee chairman explained that state fuel tax revenue is projected to decline significantly beginning in 2024 due to vehicle fuel efficiency improvements and electric vehicle adoption, and without a way to replace that money Indiana's road funding plan quickly falls apart.
Specifically, Soliday said there will be no money to widen Interstates 65 and 70 to three lanes in each direction border-to-border, or any funds to completely rebuild large segments of both highways that have not been improved since their initial construction more than 50 years ago.
"I am deeply disappointed in the governor," Soliday said. "You can't go preach that we have a 20-year, fully-funded infrastructure plan, the best in the nation, and then slowly but surely cut it away."
Soliday also took issue with Holcomb's recent deal allowing the privately-operated Indiana Toll Road, whose status is not changing, to jack up truck rates in exchange for a $1 billion payment to the state that Holcomb plans to divert a portion of to non-transportation projects.
"The (road funding) plan is one-year old, he gets the deal on the Toll Road, and boom, does diversions," Soliday said. "He just did it. Didn't talk to anybody, just said this is the way it is we're doing it."
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, applauded Holcomb's decision to nix new interstate tolling during his administration.
"I suppose the easiest, simplest response to today's announcement is: Good," GiaQuinta said.
"Considering that motorists statewide will have to deal with yearly gas tax increases that will continue to come until the middle of the next decade, I should think that most folks will be happy that they won’t have to pay any more money for improving our roads by traveling on more tolled highways."