Vote delayed on toll road proposal in Indiana

| 1/26/2007

An Indiana legislative panel has delayed a vote until next week on legislation that would clear the way for two privately run toll roads.

Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Committee, called off a vote Tuesday, Jan. 23, after legislators, businesses and concerned citizens raised several questions about a bill that would allow two proposed projects to be built as privatized toll routes.

Touted by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the bill - SB1 - would allow a private group to build and operate a toll route through five counties neighboring Indianapolis. The proposed 75-mile Indiana Commerce Connector would link Interstate 69 northeast of the city with Interstate 70 to the southwest.

The state would get money upfront and use it to help build the planned extension of I-69 through southern Indiana.

Sponsored by Wyss, the bill would also remove the state's authority to collect tolls along a portion of I-69. In return for that assurance, Daniels' proposed connector project could be tolled. Tolling authority for I-69 from Evansville to Martinsville was part of the Republican governor's Major Moves legislation from 2006 that included privatizing the Indiana Toll Road.

Wyss said he supports the connector because it will keep I-69 toll-free for the entire length of the route from Evansville to Indianapolis.

Another provision in the bill would authorize the proposed Illiana Expressway to be privately funded. The 63-mile, limited-access route is intended to relieve congestion in northwestern Indiana and near Chicago.

Bill proponents said at the Jan. 23 meeting the projects would relieve congestion and help the economy, WSJV-TV in South Bend, IN, reported.

Opponents countered that it was unclear how much economic growth the proposed projects would generate and whether they would significantly reduce traffic on surrounding highways. Others warned about giving legislative approval when the exact routes of the roads and other details have not been decided.

Indiana Department of Transportation officials said they are open to changes in the bill that would allow legislative review of the final plan, WYFI-TV in Indianapolis reported.

There were enough questions raised to delay a vote on the measure until a scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30. At the meeting, amendments also could be offered to address concerns.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

 Editor's note: The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has issued a Call to Action on this topic. To read it, click here.