The Indiana Chamber recently brought together a trio of the state’s top leadership on infrastructure issues to discuss Indiana’s current maintenance and funding challenges, including the closure of Interstate 65 near Lafayette due to emergency bridge repairs, and long-term solutions to an estimated $1 billion annual road and bridge maintenance funding gap.
Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown M.D. (R-Crawfordsville), and House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) appeared before the Chamber’s Infrastructure Policy Committee to share their views and hear the viewpoints of the state’s business leadership.
INDOT Commissioner Hendrickson stated that the I-65 closure represented significant logistical and engineering challenges and economic costs, but that the bridge repairs should be completed and the interstate back online by mid-September. She stated that INDOT was doing all it could to expedite the process, but that the bridge failure pointed to the state’s maintenance needs. A statutorily required study of potential funding mechanisms has been underway and will be made public at a legislative interim study committee this fall, most likely in October.
Both Brown and Soliday agreed that the state needs to commit for funding to road and bridge maintenance – and that was the case prior to the I-65 bridge incident. Brown suggested that revenue projections look pretty good for the $200 million appropriated to the 2020 fund to be deployed later this year, but acknowledged that more needed to be done – most likely in 2017, the next budget-writing session of the General Assembly. He also said he was open to using the $500 million in the Next Generation Trust Fund for immediate infrastructure maintenance needs. Brown would like to see a “consistent funding stream on an annual basis for transportation infrastructure” enacted in the future, but left all options on the table pending review of the INDOT study.
Soliday praised the INDOT study and described it as a “tool to look at a number of funding mechanisms and options”; he plans to hold a study committee hearing in October to review the tool and various options. Soliday said that the average Hoosier driving 12,000 miles/year pays about $108/year in taxes for transportation infrastructure and described that as a “bargain” compared to the average monthly cell phone or cable TV bills consumers pay. Both legislators were supportive of public-private partnerships and progress on existing road projects; they expressed frustration that county wheel taxes had not been more fully utilized to address local funding needs for local and county roads.
It was clear from the panel discussion that it is a question of when and how the transportation funding gap will be addressed, not “if” it will be addressed. Most likely, these issues will begin to be discussed in-depth in the 2016 legislative session with some supplemental funding being found, but that a longer-term solution will be waiting until the budget-writing process in 2017.