Highway Trust Fund Has Some Potholes

36601064The Congressional Budget Office asserts the national Highway Trust Fund would need $3 billion in ADDITIONAL revenue to keep funding transportation projects through the end of September. And it would need $8 billion if Congress chose to extend funding authority until the end of 2015. Read more via The Hill.

Obviously, there are serious challenges facing America’s road infrastructure.

Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of economic development and federal relations, outlines the main problem.

“Congress needs to get its act together and summon the political will to fashion a long-term solution to the insolvency of the highway trust fund,” he asserts. “We’ve had our fill of short-term patches. Some will say that the highway fund is insolvent because today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient and that is depressing revenues going into the fund – and there is some truth to this. But, the greater truth is that Congress hasn’t raised fuel taxes to keep up with inflation since 1993 and that, more than anything, is the root of the problem.”

Waiting … and Waiting on a Highway Funding Fix

30449450Federal highway funding is running low. Nothing new there. The Indiana Chamber, and many others, have called for long-term solutions from Washington instead of short-term fixes that simply extend the uncertainty.

How are states reacting to the current dilemma. According to the Kiplinger Letter:

  • Arkansas, Georgia, Wyoming and Tennessee have postponed 440 projects totaling more than $1.3 billion
  • Iowa, South Dakota and Utah have increased gas taxes. Others that may follow include Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Carolina
  • Seeking funds from advertisers: Virginia sells space on highway rest stop signs to GEICO; Travelers Marketing sponsors highway patrols in Massachusetts
  • Partnering with private investors: Florida is seeking private funds to rebuild portions of Interstate 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia are seeking similar ventures

Kiplinger editors add:

But states can only do so much on their own. Ultimately, Congress must act. Odds favor another temporary fix this fall. A long-term solution will likely wait until 2017. Congress and a new president will have a fresh opportunity to tackle broad tax reform, including a possible hike in federal fuel taxes, which no longer approach what’s needed to pay for highway work.

Not what many want to hear in terms of the time frame.

Chamber Supports Regional Cities Initiative, I-69 Route in Southern Marion County

HB 1403 establishes the Indiana Regional City Fund to provide grants and loans to regional development authorities. Provides that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation administers the fund. Provides that a city or town that is eligible to become a second-class city may become a member of a regional development authority.

The Indiana Chamber testified in support of HB 1403, joining many others. The Indiana Chamber endorses regionalism and place-making economic development strategies that this legislation seeks to enable. Both have proven effective and both are in line with the Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan. How to fund the state portion of the regional cities initiative remains an open question and one which the Indiana Chamber is prepared to work with legislative leaders to find an answer.

The bill was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday. No vote taken; eligible for further committee action.

Furthermore, see the article on the Regional Cities Initiative in the January/February edition of BizVoice magazine.


HB 1036 removes the requirement that the General Assembly enact a statute authorizing the construction of I-69 in Perry Township (Marion County) before I-69 may be constructed in Perry Township.

The Indiana Chamber, along with many others, testified in support of HB 1036; no party testified in opposition to the bill. There is no valid reason that the current prohibition for I-69 in Perry Township, Marion County should exist in law. The Chamber’s position: The current prohibition should be repealed; all potential routes for the final section of I-69 should be objectively studied by the appropriate agencies of both the federal and state governments; and the route with the least environmental and best economic impact for the state should be chosen upon the merits, not upon any political clout or other considerations.

This bill was heard in the House Roads and Transportation Committee on Wednesday. No vote taken; eligible for further committee action.

Drone Time: It’s Getting More Complicated

droneDrones were our BizVoice magazine cover story a few months back. Check out Rebecca Patrick’s interesting article.

A brief update, courtesy of The New York Times.

For the most part, flying a drone is legal for recreational purposes, as long as operators follow a few guidelines, like staying below 400 feet. Declining prices — a four-rotor model with a mounted camera can cost as little as $500 — have attracted more buyers. Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, estimates the global civilian drone market to be worth $450 million this year, up 45% from last year.

As the price of drones has fallen and sales have risen, the machines have emerged as central characters in stunts from the puckish to the criminal. In recent months, drone pilots have tried to smuggle contraband into prisons and disrupt sporting events at stadiums. Animal rights groups have turned to drones to stalk hunters as the hunters stalk wildlife. And in France, more than a dozen illegal flights over nuclear power plants have unnerved the authorities.

More from The Times.

On Tap in ’15: Road Funding, Sunday Alcohol Sales and 21st Century Fund

Republican supermajorities and the biennial budget will be the context for all issues during the 2015 Indiana General Assembly, as a two-year budget must be passed and any caucus with 71 members (e.g., House Republicans) inevitably will have its internal disagreements. But, in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, another contextual factor will be a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) due in summer 2015 – after the Legislature has adjourned.

This INDOT study will examine existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or tolling. The study will provide a tool to address an acknowledged $750 million annual funding gap between current revenues and identified maintenance needs, let alone any new projects (such as third lanes on congested portions of Indiana interstates).

Legislative leadership and fiscal and transportation policy experts within the General Assembly seem content to await the results of the INDOT study before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, in the 2015 session we expect issues such as fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles to be addressed; examination of using more revenue from the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation.

The INDOT study follows a report by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure identifying a set of priority projects and laying out a long-term vision for surface transportation infrastructure across Indiana. This report includes recommendations for waterborne, air and rail commerce that may be taken up by the General Assembly, including the creation of dedicated funds for these important modes of transportation.

Likewise, while the final segment of Interstate 69 has yet to undergo regulatory review and be announced, current law prevents it from running through Perry Township in Marion County as an option; we expect legislation to remove that prohibition to be introduced. We also expect investment in next-generation telecommunications infrastructure to be addressed through legislation that streamlines zoning and regulatory approvals, seeking to make them less cumbersome and more consistent across different political jurisdictions within the state.

In the area of economic development, many items will be discussed. Along with continued reform of Indiana’s business personal property tax, other anticipated issues include: examination of tax increment financing (TIF) districts; repealing Indiana’s ban on the Sunday sales of alcohol; increasing production limits on craft breweries; renewal and reform of the state’s 21st Century Fund; film production incentives; and review of both the existing patent-derived income tax exemption and the state’s venture capital tax credit.

Indeed, we expect a major thrust for fiscal leaders this session to be a re-examination of many of the state’s existing economic development programs and tax provisions, as well as discussion of a new Regional Cities Initiative by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Pence administration.

Given mixed economic signals and the continued emphasis on job creation, we anticipate it will be a very busy session.

Toll Road Tales: Good News for Taxpayers, Motorists

TReactions were varied recently when the company operating the Indiana Toll Road filed for bankruptcy. A researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School emphasizes the positive aspects of how that deal was structured and focuses on the continually evolving role of each party in such an agreement. Governing reports:

n 2005, two companies came together to form the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. (ITRCC), which won the right to operate the toll road in exchange for a $3.8 billion up-front payment. The deal limited how much tolls could rise and included a trigger requiring the consortium to expand the roadway if certain congestion benchmarks were reached. The $3.8 billion threw off about $250 million that was used to fund other state transportation priorities.

Like so many other enterprises, ITRCC was done in by the Great Recession. Its financing structure called for large debt payments at the end of the first decade, which proved overwhelming in the face of revenues that didn’t meet projections when the downturn hit and traffic volume fell.

But what’s reassuring is that motorists will see no interruption in service or toll increases as a result of the bankruptcy. The roadway is still subject to the same performance metrics, and there will be no taxpayer bailout. State officials will first try to find a new operator to take on the remainder of the concession deal. If that doesn’t work out, the ITRCC will likely be recapitalized with an altered debt schedule.

In either case, customers will retain the benefits from the $458 million ITRCC has invested since 2006 in road, bridge and pavement improvements and a new electronic tolling system.

While it appears that the Indiana Toll Road deal has succeeded at protecting taxpayers and motorists, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from the bankruptcy. To maintain a true public-private partnership, governments might want to avoid taking the entire concession payment up front.

Chicago completed a similar deal just before the Indiana Toll Road agreement and couldn’t resist the temptation to use the upfront windfall to plug other holes in the city budget instead of using interest from the concession payment to maintain transportation infrastructure. More recently, public-private partnerships for Virginia’s Pocahontas 895 parkway and Colorado’s Northwest Parkway featured smaller upfront payments but give taxpayers a cut of the ongoing toll revenue.

I-69: Time to Take Full Advantage

cropped-another-i69-headerProgress on the construction of Interstate 69 from Evansville to Indianapolis continues to take place. Among the next steps is taking economic advantage of this expansion.

The I-69 Regional Summit…Driving Opportunity is a one-day event for businesses and organizations interested in tourism, defense, economic development, government, trade and logistics, commerce and education.

Hoosier Voices for I-69 and The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce are serving as hosts. The Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center is the location on October 21, with a pre-summit welcome reception on October 20 at Indiana University’s Stadium Club.

Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann will deliver an opening keynote. Also included are an I-69 congressional caucus panel, full corridor perspective from Canada to Mexico and economic development discussion. Breakout sessions include site selection perspectives, local planning, trade/logistics and public private partnerships.

Access full details and registration.

IFA, INDOT Address Transportation Committee About Toll Road, Future Plans

The Interim Committee on Roads and Transportation heard from both the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) on the Indiana Toll Road and current and future road infrastructure needs on Sept. 23. IFA Public Finance Director Kendra York and INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning testified.

York reviewed the status of several public-private partnership (P3) projects around the state, but most of the interest and questions concerned the pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the private operator of the Indiana Toll Road, ITR Concession Company, LLC (ITRCC) and its affiliates. ITRCC filed for bankruptcy on September 11.

York testified that the bankruptcy proceeding is expected to result in either the sale of all assets of ITRCC (including lease rights to the toll road) to a new entity or a restructuring of the existing debt. Under either scenario, the toll road will continue to be owned by the IFA on behalf of the state of Indiana. IFA will continue to have the rights it negotiated in the original lease agreement including the right to approve any new operator and that operator will be strictly held to the same operational standards set forth in the original lease agreement. There will be no change to the current toll rate structure under the lease agreement. Road operations will continue as usual during the bankruptcy process without impact to drivers, employees, vendors and the communities served by the road.

York said IFA will continue to monitor the bankruptcy and work with related parties to protect the public interest. In other words, any concerns about adverse effects of the bankruptcy proceeding on the toll road or the state of Indiana are misguided at best, misleading at worst.

Browning provided a broad overview of the state of Indiana’s roads and bridges during his testimony. When adjusted for inflation, INDOT is operating much more efficiently than in years past: Operating expenses in 2014 are approximately $74 million less than in 2005, but while INDOT is operating more efficiently, the state needs more revenues to address a growing need for maintenance of existing infrastructure, let alone expansion of the state’s highway network.

Within the next five years, all fuel excise tax revenues from the state’s highway fund will be required for maintenance of existing infrastructure; no funding will be available for expansion projects. Additionally, more than half of the state’s bridges are in the last 25 years of their useful life (50+ years or older) and will need significant reconstruction or remediation.

Both federal and state highway revenues are expected to remain flat or slightly decline due to a number of factors, including increased fuel efficiency standards and alternative-fuel vehicles. This will cause the state to have to look for creative ways to finance projects (such as P3s) or find new sources of revenue. INDOT is in the middle of a legislatively-mandated two-year study of needs and funding sources.

In short, while the state did well in the Major Moves era with strategic investments, it is facing increasing challenges to pay for future upgrades to its surface transportation network. New sources of revenue need to be found and the Indiana Chamber looks forward to the final analysis by INDOT in the two-year study.

Transportation’s Future Focus of Summit

08Solving the National Transportation Crisis is the theme of the 12th annual Indiana Logistics Summit. More than 300 participants are expected from the transportation, logistics, distribution and manufacturing industries.

Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith are among the speakers. Innovator Lawrence Burns, who spent 40 years with General Motors, will deliver a presentation on The Future of Transportation.

Purdue University, Conexus Indiana and the Ports of Indiana are the hosts for the Oct. 7-8 event at the Indiana Convention Center. Learn more and register.

Congress Seeks Short-Term Fix to Highway Trust Fund Dilemma

The U.S. Congress voted last week to provide $10.9 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund the Highway Trust Fund in order to reimburse states for repairs and infrastructure improvements for roads, rails and airports.

The nearly $11 billion was cobbled together from general fund revenues by any number of budgetary gimmicks not rationally tied to the fuel (gasoline and diesel) excise taxes that normally go into the trust fund (e.g., an extension of customs fees as well as so-called “pension smoothing”).

Few lawmakers in the Indiana delegation (and the entire Congress for that matter) are happy that it is not a longer-term solution; those we spoke with were frustrated by the delay and the funding mechanisms. The Indiana Chamber agrees this is no way to conduct the people’s business, but it is better than the alternative of the highway fund going broke, work stoppages and the idling of hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the country. We will work with the delegation to secure a more rational bill and reauthorization of the multi-year surface transportation bill in coming months.