Indiana may seek permission to toll its interstate highways to boost transportation funding.

DALLAS – Tolling Indiana's interstate highways is one of a dozen recommendations from a state legislative task force that could generate up to $1 billion a year for transportation needs.

The Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger Safer Tomorrow (FIRSST) panel issued a report on Monday recommending that the General Assembly work with federal officials to allow "equitable and modern tolling systems" on Indiana's interstate highways to fund upkeep and expansion of the state's roads and bridges.

Federal law currently prohibits states from levying tolls on existing interstates except for new lanes intended to reduce traffic congestion.

The task force's suggestions also included raising the state's gasoline and diesel taxes and adjusting them to inflation, as well as a new fee on electric vehicles.

"We know that the revenue sources we are using right now are not keeping up with our current and future transportation infrastructure needs," said state Sen. Luke Kenley, a Republican from Noblesville who co-chaired the panel. "FIRSST has identified plenty of options that will be on the table as we move into the upcoming budget session."

Indiana is one of several states that are expected to make transportation funding a top priority at their 2017 legislative sessions, said Carolyn Kramer, director of the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center. California and Louisiana are among the other states.

"This includes a dozen states where we think there is a good chance of legislation moving forward," she said. "Many legislators held off on introducing major bills in 2016 before the election and are looking to revisit or address transportation needs in the new year."

The 12 recommendations adopted by the Indiana panel by a vote of 10 to1 are a move toward more reliance on user fees to fund state roads, Kenley said.

"If you're going to use it, then you need to help pay for it," he said. "Being the good Hoosiers that we are, we are willing to step up to our responsibility that we need a good, strong road infrastructure program for the safety and convenience of our traveling public."

The panel recommended an immediate increase of 8 to 10 cents in the state's gasoline tax of 18 cent per gallon to restore the buying power lost to inflation since the last increase in 2003. The diesel tax of 16 cents would also go up to compensate for inflation.

Lawmakers should also fully restore the Indiana Finance Authority's ability to issue highway revenue bonds, grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, and bonds supported by federal Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act loans, the panel said.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, the Republican chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said he would file a road funding bill based on the task force's recommendations by Jan. 10.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said Soliday's measure would be the top priority in 2017 for the 70 Republicans in the 100-member chamber.

Measures raising the state gasoline tax are also facing legislators in California and Louisiana.

Meanwhile, two almost identical bills that would generate an additional $6 billion per year in California's transportation funding, including $2.25 billion per year for local streets and roads, were introduced in the General Assembly on Dec. 5 by state Sen. Jim Beall and state Rep. Jim Frazier.

The measures, among other things, would raise the state gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon, adjusted every three years for inflation, to raise an additional $1.8 billion per year. A proposed 20 cent per gallon increase in the state diesel tax would bring in an additional $600 million per year, the sponsors said.

A road funding panel created by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards adopted a proposal on Dec. 13 to raise an additional $700 million per year for state highways. The panel said an increase in the state gasoline tax of 20 cent per gallon was the "most reliable" way to raise that much new money, but did not specify a recommended level.

A final report is to be presented to the governor by Jan. 1.

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