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INDIANAPOLIS — It appears likely that Hoosier drivers and motorists traveling through the Crossroads of America soon will pay more to ensure Indiana can afford to maintain and improve its highway network.

The state's road funding task force is expected on Dec. 15 to recommend that the Republican-controlled General Assembly increase the 18 cents per gallon gasoline tax, index it for future inflation and toll new and existing roads where feasible, among other revenue-raising suggestions.

"That is never an easy conversation to have," said state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, who represents a portion of Jasper County and is chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.

"But insofar as we want our state to be competitive from an economic standpoint, and the population expects high-quality infrastructure as well as safe infrastructure, this is a vital conversation."

The Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger Safer Tomorrow, or FIRSST, Task Force got little pushback on any of those options during a public hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse.

The co-chairman, state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said that's because the panel has, through its research and analysis, come to accept that new revenue is effectively the only way to raise the $800 million a year the state needs to spend to have 98 percent of its bridges and 95 percent of pavement rated fair or better by 2036.

"I think we have a good picture of where Indiana is and what our needs are," Kenley said. "The next big exercise ... is to get behind the plan and sell it to the citizens so that they think they're getting value for the investment being made."

"They want the roads, they recognize the need — are they willing to pay for it?"

Kenley said the task force is committed to supporting a funding plan that is user fee-based and sustainable for at least the next two decades.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said those goals should prompt lawmakers to look beyond simply raising the gas tax, since increased fuel efficiency and alternative-fuel vehicles are diminishing its revenue potential.

He believes a vehicle miles-traveled tax should be on the table as well as increased tolling to appropriately charge out-of-state drivers, particularly truckers, who use Indiana's roads but don't purchase gas in the state and so never pay anything.

"I think we do need to look at tolling at least in a more in-depth way than we have," Soliday said.

Unlike his predecessor, Republican Gov. Mike Pence, GOP Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb has not ruled out signing into law road funding tax hikes approved by the Legislature.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.