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Indiana Toll Road

Drivers travel along the Indiana Toll Road in Hammond. The Indiana Finance Authority on Thursday approved a one-time toll rate hike on trucks and other heavy vehicles in exchange for the Toll Road operator paying $1 billion to the state.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Toll Road rates for trucks and other heavy vehicles with more than two axles will jump 35 percent on Oct. 5 in exchange for the state receiving $1 billion from the operator of the leased highway.

The Indiana Finance Authority on Thursday unanimously approved a deal with the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. that will enable the state to complete Interstate 69 in central Indiana three years ahead of schedule and put nearly $200 million toward improving U.S. Highways 20, 30 and 31 in northern Indiana.

The one-time Toll Road rate hike does not apply to passenger vehicles.

But a typical, 5-axle semi-trailer truck next month will pay $60.02, up from $44.46, to travel the full 156 miles between Ohio and Illinois along the northern edge of Indiana.

Micah Vincent, state finance board chairman, said even with the increase Toll Road rates will remain lower than many neighboring states, while Indiana, which still owns the Toll Road, gets $1 billion for allowing the rate hike requested by the operator to go through.

Under the deal, the Toll Road operator will pay the state $400 million on Oct. 5, $300 million in October 2019 and the final $300 million in October 2020.

In addition to nearly $800 million in highway construction, Indiana plans to use $100 million from the deal to connect rural Indiana, including southern Lake and Porter counties, to broadband internet service; $90 million for hiking, biking and riding trail improvements throughout the state; and $20 million to lure direct international flights to the Indianapolis airport.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said the deal, which he dubbed Next Level Connections, sends "a big message to the world that Indiana is making a huge investment in our quality of life."

Meanwhile, Vincent downplayed grumbling by trucking companies and some Democratic state legislators that the rate hike is a tax on businesses that will get passed along to Hoosier consumers.

He said tolls are just one of many costs that go into moving freight by truck — and nowhere near the largest.

Vincent expects very few trucks will divert onto adjacent highways in Northwest Indiana, or elsewhere along the Toll Road, because for shipping companies "time is money."

"They're fundamentally different types of roads," Vincent said. "There's a reason that you're selecting to use the Toll Road now."

As part of the deal, the Toll Road operator has agreed to spend $50 million to expand truck parking and install electric truck chargers at travel plazas, improve digital signage along the length of the road, deploy more cameras to monitor traffic flow and begin preparing to accommodate autonomous vehicles.

"It's really a great opportunity to continue to move our state forward, much like the original deal did," Vincent said.

Indiana received $3.8 billion in 2006 for leasing the generally underperforming Toll Road to a private operator for 75 years.

The state used that money over the next decade to build or rebuild numerous highways and bridges, including the Borman Expressway in Lake County, and to partially fund the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and its many projects aimed at improving quality of life in the Region.

Vincent declined to say how much money the Toll Road operator will make as a result of the special truck rate increase during the decades remaining in the lease that runs until 2081.

Toll Road rates typically only can increase by 2 percent, or the national inflation rate, every July 1.

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