Indiana governor pulls toll road proposals

| 3/26/2007

Citing public opinion, Gov. Mitch Daniels told legislative leaders in Indiana to withdraw proposed legislation to clear the way for two privately run toll roads in the state.

"It is clear to me that we are far from the degree of consensus that is necessary before embarking on major public works projects of high local impact," Daniels said in letters to leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees.

Daniels' announcement, made during the weekend, signaled the Republican governor was conceding defeat on his tolling plans in the face of swelling opposition from the public. Allowing private groups to build or run roadways in the state has been met with angst from many in the state since Daniels decided to pursue and eventually signed over controlling authority for the Indiana Toll Road nearly a year ago.

The public was at odds with this new proposal to allow a private group to build and operate a toll route through five counties neighboring Indianapolis. The proposed 75-mile Indiana Commerce Connector sought to link Interstate 69 northeast of the city with Interstate 70 to the southwest.

The Senate voted along party lines in February to advance the Republican-led bill - SB1 - that called for using money from the deal to help build the planned extension of I-69 through southern Indiana. The bill had been awaiting consideration in the House where Democrats - who generally oppose the effort - control the chamber by a razor-thin 51-49 margin.

Sponsored by Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, the bill was touted as a way to remove the state's authority to collect tolls along a portion of I-69.

In return for that assurance, the bill allowed the proposed connector project to 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 supported the connector because it would keep I-69 toll-free for the entire length of the route from Evansville to Indianapolis.

While Daniels asked legislators to discard from consideration the proposed connector project, he did ask them to consider a roughly 10-mile section of the proposed Illiana Expressway in northwestern Indiana. The highway would link Interstate 65 and the Illinois state line.

The governor's latest plan for the route is much smaller than the original idea for a 63-mile, limited-access route to relieve congestion near Chicago.

"The people of the affected areas have spoken clearly enough to persuade me that these ideas are, at best, premature," Daniels wrote in the letters. "By contrast, an Illiana bypass from I-65 west seems to be broadly supported and can, I hope, be given the chance to move forward."

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor