Indiana lawmakers call for tolls on I-69

| 10/9/2006

A pair of Indiana state lawmakers said they will push legislation that could make the planned $2 billion extension of Interstate 69 a toll road from Evansville to Indianapolis.

Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly approved a bill that included a provision to prohibit tolls on the 25-mile stretch of I-69 between Martinsville and Indianapolis without legislative approval.

The provision was included in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves road-building plan that authorized the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian consortium for $3.85 billion. The I-69 measure was inserted into the governor’s plan primarily to gain support from lawmakers who oppose the highway.

Rep. David Crooks, D-Washington, and Rep. Trent Van Haaften, D-Mount Vernon, said Oct. 6 they would try to delete the provision.

They said it is unfair to charge truckers and other drivers to travel the 117 miles from Evansville to Martinsville while not requiring tolls to be placed closer to Indianapolis.

“(Drivers between Martinsville and Indianapolis) are getting all the benefits of a brand new highway without paying their share of the costs,” Crooks said in a written statement.

Crooks and Van Haaften said they also want to remove the state’s legal authority to lease the yet-to-be-built highway extension for up to 99 years to a private entity, The Associated Press reported. Instead, they want the road to be state-run and paid for partially through a bond issue.

The lawmakers said they would prefer the route to be toll-free, but that tolling it would get the road done more quickly.

Crooks said a $1.2 billion bond issue could pay for some of the road. After the bonds are paid off in 30 to 40 years, I-69 could become a freeway, he told The AP.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said he would listen to the lawmakers’ idea, but suggested the proposal was “just another political stunt.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation is slated to begin construction of the extension near Evansville in 2008.

The Democrats proposal could be brought up for consideration in the regular session that begins in January.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor