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Thursday, November 02, 2017 1:00 am

Road tolls could bring in billions

Study estimates revenue from charging on interstates

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

Information on possible tolling of Interstate 69:

Tolling revenue: $8.4 billion to $11 billion between 2021 and 2050

Daily miles traveled (all vehicles) in 2015: 9.6 million

Potential toll rate per mile: 4 cents to 19 cents depending on vehicle

Share of toll revenue through 2050: 41 percent on automobiles; 55 percent heavy trucks

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana could see between $39 billion and $53 billion in toll revenue from 2021 to 2050, according to a feasibility study released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Transportation on a proposed statewide tolling program.

The report, ordered by the Indiana General Assembly this year, estimates potential tolls and trip rates on six major highways – Interstates 64, 65, 69, 70, 74 and 94.

Nothing in the study says how many of the drivers are Hoosiers versus out-of-state travelers.

An example of a toll covering the 105 miles from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis would be $4.20 for an automobile with a transponder.

Overall, tolling revenue on I-69 – including south of Indianapolis – could range from $8.4 billion to $11 billion from 2021 to 2050.

The potential toll rates mostly ranged from 4 cents per mile for automobiles to 19 cents per mile for heavy trucks.

“This is a feasibility study, designed to inform discussions about the feasibility of a statewide tolling program. This study is not an investment-grade study that can be used to secure financing for a tolling project,” the study said.

“Actual toll revenues, if such a program is pursued, will depend on future traffic volumes and on the details of how Indiana implements the program.”

Lawmakers recently raised the state gas tax by 10 cents to help with road maintenance and also included a study of tolling for the future. INDOT has also requested proposals from firms on planning for toll systems.

The report estimated that traffic diversion rates – drivers choosing to take local roads instead – would range from 9 percent to 22 percent.

The analysis presented in the report assumes that toll rates are applied consistently for all traffic. However, Indiana could explore varying its toll structures for local, commuter and in-state travelers.

Revenue projections are varied. There is an 85 percent chance that toll revenue exceeds $39 billion from 2021 to 2050, and a 50 percent chance it exceeds $53 billion.

The report is based on electronic tolling with no gates or booths. INDOT would construct tolling gantries that house cameras and other hardware that capture transponder and license plate information.

This information would be used to match vehicles to their owner. Payments would be made electronically or by mail.

INDOT estimates that nearly 370 gantries would be needed for a statewide tolling program, and that each gantry would cost around $1 million.

Once the gantries are installed, ongoing costs would be required for maintenance of the equipment, back-office operations to process payments, customer service and enforcement.

None of these costs are accounted for in the tolling revenue projections.

The study also assumes that the majority of vehicles will have a toll transponder tied to an electronic account. Drivers without a transponder would pay an additional $2 surcharge to cover the cost of toll collection via mail.

The feasibility plan assumes Interstates 65 and 70 would be expanded to six lanes from state line to state line.

Any tolling would be approved by Indiana's governor, and the federal government would also have to give its blessing.

A general tolling program allows states to toll new highways and new lanes that are added to existing highways.

It also enables states to convert existing toll-free bridges to toll bridges if they are reconstructed or replaced.

nkelly@jg.net