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Finish U.S. 31 Once & For All

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Region Economic Development on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

If you were one of the 44 million people traveling over the Fourth of July holiday, you might have noticed a slight increase in your gas price. If you bought that gas in Indiana, a 10-cent increase per gallon in tax went into effect on July 1 because of action by the Indiana General Assembly during its 2017 session.

The gas tax increase, together with some other fees, is aimed at generating an additional $900 million annually for the construction, maintenance and upkeep of our roads and bridges. The tax was last adjusted in 2003. No provisions for inflation had been made at that time. The proceeds from the tax increase will be split between the state and local governments.

The long-term funding plan was one of the primary bills to come out of the last legislative session and found broad support among legislators, the governor, business groups and people across Indiana who recognized for the Indiana economy to thrive, good infrastructure is essential.

In recent years, state and local officials have wrestled with how to keep up with infrastructure demands. Rising construction costs coupled with shrinking budgets shifted most government thinking to maintaining what they had rather than building new.

Priorities including the completion of U.S. 31 in north and central Indiana and Interstate 69 in southern Indiana — as well as improvements to such major corridors as I-70, I-65, and U.S. 30 — were in jeopardy without a new funding source. U.S. 31 has long been the top transportation priority of the business community, which has worked closely with state and local officials for more than 20 years to advance its completion. They all should be thanked and commended for their efforts.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the corridor to eliminate bottlenecks, improve safety and ensure the efficient flow of traffic between the state capital in Indianapolis and one of Indiana’s largest regional economies here in South Bend and Elkhart.

Still, communities along the corridor have yet to reach full economic development potential because of impediments that remain, which include six traffic signals and two railroad crossings (neither of which carry many trains).

Another 100 intersections and 200 driveways stand in the way of a limited access corridor. Attention now has turned to Marshall, Fulton, Miami, Cass, Tipton and Hamilton counties where a majority of that work remains.

INDOT has long operated under the mantra that they should finish what they started and maintain what they have. We agree. The new revenue boost should position the agency to finalize a more specific plan for at least addressing the impediments listed above. It also should give them sufficient resources to address safety concerns like U.S. 31’s intersections with Indiana 110 and Indiana 10.

I’ve traveled I-69 and I-70, and agree both should be high on the state’s priority list. But I also believe it’s important not abandon plans to complete the U.S. 31 corridor. We need INDOT to complete their plans. You can help. Visit www.in.gov/indot and let them know that some of the proceeds from the new gas tax should go to finish U.S. 31.

Written by Jeff Rea, published by the South Bend Tribune

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