By Keith Goble
state legislative editor
Facing a $2 billion gap in the state's road construction budget, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has unveiled a plan that could lead to tolls being used to extend Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville.
Perhaps even worse news for truckers, the deal also increases existing fees on the Indiana Toll Road by up to 113 percent for large trucksand up to 72 percent for cars.
Several Democrats say the proposed solution is a risky blueprint that would cost drivers hundreds of millions of dollars in new and increased tolls.
Under the governor's plan, dubbed "Major Moves," increases on the Toll Road would vary by distance driven. The toll for tractor-trailers traveling the entire 157-mile route will increase from $14.55 to as much as $32. Tolls for passenger vehicles traveling the same route will rise from $4.65 to up to $8.
The criticism didn't dissuade the Republican governor.
"The more creative and aggressive we are, the more we can build," Daniels said at a press conference announcing his plan.
As part of his 10-year, $10.6 billion statewide highway construction plan, Daniels floated the possibility of leasing the Toll Road and an extended I-69 to a private operator, which would keep the tolls in exchange for operating and maintaining the roadways.
Any leasing plans would require approval from the Indiana General Assembly.
The administration intends to increase Toll Road fees on its own as early as next spring. The revenue will be used to maintain the road and fund other projects.
Daniels said toll rates have not increased since 1985 and no longer meet maintenance needs.
The rate increases will generate an estimated $770 million in 10 years.
"Very little of this will happen on a business-as-usual basis," Daniels said. "Without new approaches that stretch dollars and access new funding sources, only a fraction of these projects will happen within the next decade. Some will never happen."
The governor is seeking higher tolls in part because he said he would not support an increase in the state's
16-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to pay for roadwork because of already high fuel costs.