Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

July 15, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Road to funding Ind. highways is jammed

State looks for more money for its roads

If you’ve driven on either of Indiana’s two busiest interstates recently, you’ll understand why a blue-ribbon commission last week called for adding traffic lanes to those harrowing highways.

The report, issued by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure, cited traffic studies documenting the heavy use, high speeds and accident-causing congestion that plague Interstate 65 and Interstate 70.

The commission also put a price tag on the fix — expanding the interstates to six lanes from four — at a cool $2.5 billion.

Neither the recommendations nor the cost estimates are new. Calls for fixing Indiana’s antiquated infrastructure are years old, but the sticking point remains money.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Pence OK’d the release of $200 million from the state’s general fund into the state’s Major Moves construction fund. It’s being used to expand some small stretches of heavily traveled sections of I-65 that are nearly 50 years old.

Another $200 million may be released after the December revenue forecast, if the State Budget Committee decides there’s enough money in the state pot.

The blue-ribbon commission, whose members come from the public and private sector, called on Congress to get its act together to replenish the nearly insolvent federal Highway Trust Fund.

So far, that’s been met with fierce resistance from conservative Republicans aligned with the tea party, mostly because it would require a hike on the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 21 years.

Even if Congress comes through, that doesn’t let Indiana off the hook. The federal road dollars only pay for part of our infrastructure costs. We still have to find ways to pay for our share of upkeep and maintenance of more than 90,000 miles of roads that run through the state.

As the commission’s report noted, that’s getting harder to do. Indiana spends $600 million of its annual highway fund just to maintain the current road system. With the rising cost of materials and labor, those dollars don’t go as far as they once did.

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