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Ready for more toll roads in Indiana?

view of county road from the tractor seat
UNIQUE VIEW: Here’s a county road from the tractor seat. While this road is in good shape, note the narrow shoulders and overhanging tree. That could translate into repair costs in the future.
A legislative study committee will discuss establishing more toll roads.

The historic road funding legislation passed by the 2017 Indiana General Assembly appears positive for both Indiana and agriculture. Justin Schneider, who worked closely with legislators to develop a comprehensive funding bill, was pleased with the results.

You will soon be paying more for fuel and to renew plates, but you’ll get more in return. A significant portion of the funding will find its way to local governments, including rural counties.

That won’t solve all the road and bridge issues in Indiana. The same formulas used to dole out money to counties in the past will be used in the future. Some counties will receive more funding than others.

More money for road and bridge infrastructure is positive. Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason to increase taxes, and this appears to be one of them.  Many Indiana roads and bridges are in need of upgrading, either because current infrastructure is failing, bridges are obsolete, or both. 

The one provision of the bill that could cause heartburn revolves around establishing a study committee to review the possibility of increasing toll roads in Indiana, including already existing roads.

Sometimes study committees are established so an issue will never see the light of day. However, Schneider believes the Legislature is serious about the possibility of instituting toll fees in the future.

The study committee is charged to complete its work by Nov. 1. However, the state budget committee, which includes legislators, must review any decisions to establish toll roads.

Toll road pros and cons
My first encounters with toll roads were far from positive. Traveling around Chicago, I discovered these infamous booths that delay your trip. I soon became frustrated sitting in line, needing exact change and feeling like I was in the Indy 500 getting back on the highway.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s the old way of collecting tolls. The new way, instituted on the new bridge over the Ohio River headed into Louisville, relies on technology to detect that you paid in advance, or to record your license plate number if you didn’t.

In the latter case, you’re not in trouble — you can just expect a bill for using the bridge. Either way, there are no expensive toll booth oasis areas to construct, and no toll booths to slow you down.

My reservation is still twofold. First, it smacks of more regulation by Big Brother. As a high school student in the 1960s, I read George Orwell’s “1984” some 15 years before it happened. The concept of government invading private lives was scary then and is scarier now. Many things Orwell predicted came true, plus some government infringements he never dreamed possible.

Do you really like the idea that an obscure camera can detect your license plate and allow officials to send you a bill? I, for one, am not crazy about the idea.

Second, is it good policy to collect tolls on roads that have already been paid for in other ways? No one knows which roads might become toll roads: Interstate 70, I-65, I-69, I-74, maybe even U.S. 31?

Yes, these roads need maintenance, and that’s expensive today. But if we’re going to have user fees, why not stay with visible ones, like the gas tax? If that tax needs to increase faster in the future, so be it. I would much rather pay more at the pump than wonder if hidden eyes in the sky are watching as I drive down I-65, an interstate that has existed for more than 50 years.   

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