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Editorial: Funding highway projects essential to state’s future

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A truck driver hauling freight from Point A to Point B must put the semitrailer into gear and put his right foot on the accelerator to accomplish this task. Gov. Mike Pence and state highway officials need to do likewise to figure out how to fund needed projects.

They’re faced with serious challenges that will make funding highway repairs and improvements more difficult. The state’s 18-cents-per-gallon gas tax doesn’t generate the revenue it used to because vehicles have become more fuel-efficient. The federal Highway Trust Fund is strapped for cash, meaning money that states receive for road projects is unpredictable. With the trust facing bankruptcy, Congress provided a short-term solution with an infusion of $11 billion into the fund.

That averted drastic cuts this summer, but it didn’t solve the problem. Congress needs to get serious about long-term solutions for funding the trust fund.

Pence and state highway officials need to take the reins on the issue statewide, come up with solutions and put them into action in order to fund road projects. Failure to do so has serious implications to the state’s economy. Indiana is a hub for transportation and logistics, and manufacturers need good highways for their products to be shipped across the country.

What would benefit the state — and Johnson County area manufacturers — significantly is an expansion of Interstate 65 from Louisville to Chicago. I-65 is a transportation artery vital to the health of Indiana’s economy.

One regional I-65 project did receive funding this year: widening the interstate between Southport Road on the southside and State Road 44 in Franklin. However, that project was funded only after state lawmakers agreed to spend $200 million of the $400 million Pence had requested from the Major Moves construction fund.

Those funds supported only one other project this year, in the Lafayette area.

Indiana needs to fund more projects than that annually to keep up with needed repairs and improvements.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is studying funding alternatives. Also, the governor appointed a panel to consider Indiana’s transportation needs. Recently, the panel shared its suggestions, including the possibility of new user fees and tying the gas tax to inflation. However, those suggestions were described more as talking points than recommendations to act upon.

That leaves the state is in neutral, no closer to reaching solutions, getting nowhere.

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