Private groups have been cleared to build and operate the Illiana Expressway in Indiana in exchange for toll revenue. The authority comes four years after Gov. Mitch Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road to private investors for $3.85 billion in upfront cash.
Until now, Indiana law prohibited tolling or privatization of the proposed Illiana Expressway. Signed by the governor, the new law authorizes a private group to build and operate the roadway in exchange for toll revenue.
As currently proposed, the route is to be a 23-mile state highway built to interstate standards to connect Interstate 65 in northwest Indiana with Interstate 55 near Joliet, IL. About 10 miles of the roadway would be built in the Hoosier State.
Critics of the plan have concerns about the many unknowns that remain about the Illiana project, such as the exact path. Supporters tout job creation, economic growth and the lack of funding now available to the state for needed road work.
The governor is looking into a bistate commission with Illinois to handle the construction of the Illiana Expressway. Ideally, Daniels wants it to be similar to a model the state has used with Kentucky to move forward on a bridge-building project over the Ohio River.
The new Indiana law also addresses that project. A provision authorizes a public-private partnership project for bridges over the Ohio River connecting Indiana and Kentucky.
Daniels said that the Illiana and Ohio River bridges projects have the potential for significant economic impact. The governor said in a statement that the use of public-private partnerships is “the only practical means of making them happen.”
Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said he believes it won’t be very long before a deal is lined up for the expressway project. He anticipates the state will move quickly looking for investors.
The Indiana Department of Transportation will also be responsible for studying high-speed rail connecting South Bend and Fort Wayne. Other provisions included in the bill require an economic impact study and environmental analysis, as well as a public hearing once the study is complete and another one after a private developer is found.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Indiana in 2010, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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