After saying he would not rule out tolls on existing interstates in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels is now ruling them out after all, the Indianapolis Star reported.
According to the newspaper, federal law bars changing an interstate to a toll road, and the flexibility that Daniels had anticipated in the new federal highway funding law does not appear to apply to Indiana.
According to Daniels, tolls are now off of the table—at least for existing interstates. “It’s not in the realm,” the governor said.
When the state Department of Transportation issues its report in mid-September, laying out the state’s highway project priorities and how to pay for them, tolls will at most be a small part of the answer, said Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp.
However, it is likely that tolls will rise on the Indiana Toll Road in northwestern Indiana, where tolls have not gone up since 1985, reported the Indianapolis Star. Tolls remain a probability to help pay for the extension of I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis.
Daniels reportedly told the Indianapolis Star that every road-funding option was on the table. That included tolls for drivers between Indianapolis and suburban areas.
Daniels said that too often, states increase gasoline taxes to fund highway construction. “We said ‘not so fast. There are other ways to address this problem, ways which are more fair or equitable,’” Daniels said.
When the state lays out its highway agenda in September, Daniels said, “there will be some different funding sources. Tolling is very likely to be there. It’s happening all over the world. It’s more than fair. It’s a user fee.”
According to the Indianapolis Star, when asked whether he was referring only to new roads or, for example, to the possibility of a toll between Anderson and Indianapolis, Daniels responded: “We didn’t take anything off of the table.”
That thinking concerned mayors in many Central Indiana cities and towns, whose residents use the interstates to get to jobs and entertainment in Indianapolis, the newspaper reported.
“When I think about the number of people who drive from the city of Franklin and Johnson County to Marion County, I can’t think that [tolls] would be very popular,” said Franklin Mayor Brenda Jones-Matthews.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson said he didn’t mind Daniels throwing the idea out for discussion and said he supports the idea of using tolls as one way to help build the I-69 extension. But tolls on I-65 were another thing.
“I’m a supporter of the governor. One thing he does on almost everything is to say everything is on the table,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t pick and choose.”
Sharp said the DOT is looking into what other states are doing and has come up with nearly 30 options to raise additional revenue. “Some are very small. Some have larger impact. Some take legislation,” Sharp said. Tolling on existing interstates would be “very illegal,” Sharp said. “So check that off.”
Daniels said that during recent trips to Washington, he had been told there was some new tolling flexibility in the highway bill, the newspaper reported.
“The scope of the problem is so large, and the opportunity to enhance Indiana’s infrastructure is also so large, that I didn’t want any idea ruled out of hand,” he said. “But many will prove impractical either for legal reasons or for real-word reasons. This [adding tolls] might well be one of them.”
Gary Abell, spokesman for the Transportation Department, said there are four federal programs—two ongoing and two new—to give states flexibility in charging tolls, the Indianapolis Star reported. However, he said that none are applicable in Indiana.
According to Daniels, he does not want the department “wasting time on something that might not even be within the rules. We want to go to work now. We want a plan that works now.”