MARTINSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced plans on Tuesday to pump an additional $1 billion into infrastructure projects throughout his state, money that will be raised through massive fee increases on heavy-duty commercial vehicles that use the Indiana Toll Road.
Deemed the “Next Level Connections” program, the money would come from a renegotiated agreement with the company that operates the tollway. Under the new terms, which still need final perfunctory approval from the Indiana Finance Authority, rates charged on vehicles with three or more axles would increase by 35 percent beginning in October.
Democrats argue the proposal would amount to a tax increase for the trucking industry, although Holcomb stressed that the new fees would not apply to drivers of passenger cars and would bring Indiana in-line with what other nearby states charge.
It’s unclear how much the toll-road operator, Indiana Toll Road Concession Company, would stand to make under the deal. Holcomb said the company would pay the state the $1 billion in three separate installments over the next couple years.
“Today we’re sending a big message to the world that Indiana is making a huge investment in our quality of life and for those who aspire to join us,” said Holcomb. “We are linking Hoosiers to each other and to the world.”
Like many states, Indiana has struggled to keep up with maintenance on its aging infrastructure. Last year, the Republicans who control Indiana’s Statehouse — and have cut taxes on the wealthy in recent years — increased the fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon to help pay for improvements to the state’s crumbling roadways.
Holcomb’s latest proposal would put even more money into infrastructure. He said the money is needed to make sure Indiana can compete with other states. As a state whose residents are employed heavily in the manufacturing industry, Indiana needs well-maintained infrastructure to move products.
Holcomb’s proposal calls for :
- $600 million to speed up the completion of Interstate 69, a failed privatization project by then-Gov. Mike Pence, which the state took over after the initial contractor struggled with mismanagement and work stoppages.
- $190 million for projects on U.S. Routes 20, 30 and 31, where new interchanges will be added to reduce the number of traffic lights between Indianapolis and South Bend.
- $100 million to boost rural broadband access.
- $20 million to encourage airlines to offer new direct flight routes to the state’s airports.
- $90 million for improving hiking and biking trails.
Although Holcomb’s proposal was praised by GOP Statehouse leaders, Democrats argued it lacks transparency, wasn’t properly vetted and includes far too many unknowns.
“We have no idea of the effect this 35-percent increase in tolls for heavy vehicles will have on industries within the toll road corridor or upon the employees who work for them,” said Democratic Sen. David Niezgodski, whose district includes part of the toll road around South Bend. “Legislators and industry officials were supposed to study this issue thoroughly and weren’t given that opportunity.”