Truck drivers who use the Indiana Toll Road could see toll rates rise by a whopping 35 percent if the Indiana Finance Authority approves a contract renegotiation with the toll road’s private operator at its Sept. 20 meeting. The rate increase was announced by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as part of his Next Level Connections infrastructure plan to raise $1 billion for trails, broadband, roads and flights.
While some applauded the announcement, the trucking industry and the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, of which NATSO is a member, pushed back on the unwelcome surprise and its impact on doing business in Indiana.
"It's shocking the state would make this decision without considering the impact on us,” Indiana Motor Truck Association President Gary Langston told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. "We were given no opportunity to plan for it or work with customers. Every time transportation costs go up it impacts the costs of goods,” he said. “We will all be paying for it.”
Indiana Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, agreed. “Make no mistake; these huge increases will eventually be passed along to consumers," Rep. Bauer said. "Taxing one industry that uses the toll road in northern Indiana in order to support the various needs of other parts of the state is ridiculous."
While Langston said the trucking industry understands the need for infrastructure investment, he similarly called attention to the disconnect between the truck-only revenue source and non-road projects receiving funding.
"To hear that it’s truck-only and then to hear that there are portions of the revenue that will be used for things totally unrelated to roads, like bike paths and walking trails and broadband and things that really don’t connect with trucking, is just unbelievable that all of that is funded by nothing more than the toll rate increase on trucks,” Langston said in an interview with Transport Topics.
Of the $1 billion, which the state would receive in three upfront payments over three years from the private operator, $50 million would go to the Indiana Toll Road and $190 million would go toward improvements to U.S. 20 and 30 and the addition of new interchanges on U.S. 31. The full list of projects is as follows:
- $100 million to fund a grant program to bring high speed, affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved areas of the state
- $90 million to initiate a grant program that encourages local and regional collaboration to grow the state’s trails system, including hiking, biking and riding trails
- Complete major highway projects:
- $600 million to accelerate completion of I-69 Section 6 from 2027 to 2024
- $190 million to add new interchanges on U.S. 31 between South Bend and Indianapolis and expand the number of projects that will be completed on U.S. 20 and 30 through 2023
- Focus INDOT resources to clean up the state’s highways
- $20 million to add more nonstop international flights to Indianapolis
- Complete evaluation of the purchase of land to develop the state’s fourth port on the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg
- Pursue federal funding for the West Lake and South Shore rail projects in Northwest Indiana
The toll increase applies to Class 3 and above trucks using the Indiana Toll Road, which consists of Interstates 90 and 80 and runs 156 miles across the northernmost part of Indiana. A class 7 truck would be charged almost an additional $40 to drive across Indiana. This raises concerns about diversion around the tolls, especially since U.S. 20 runs a parallel east-west route across the top of the state mere miles away.
“[The toll road] is an extremely important freight corridor that has a tremendous amount of freight traffic. Trucks are the No. 1 customer of the tollway,” Langston said. “[U.S. 20], too, is a very busy corridor. I think we will see more significant diversion as a result of that.”
Traffic diversion around the increased toll would diminish the customer base of travel plazas along the Indiana Toll Road and be another hit to their businesses on top of increased costs for goods.
The Governor said an independent analysis showed the new contract terms with the private operator, Toll Road Concession Company, would be a “good deal for the state of Indiana” but declined to provide a copy of the analysis to media outlets that requested one to review. He also declined to give an estimate for how much profit the private operator would see over the remaining 63 years of the contract under the new rates.
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