One public-private partnership for a major highway in Indiana is not enough, according the state’s governor-elect, Mike Pence.
Pence, who succeeds fellow Republican Mitch Daniels when he takes office Jan. 14, says he’ll name a special panel to complete Interstate 69 – most likely as a public-private partnership.
Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road to private investors from Spain and Australia in 2006, and used some of the money to start building the 142-mile “missing link” of I-69 from Evansville to Indianapolis.
The first 67-mile stretch of new highway opened in November 2012, linking I-64 near Evansville to U.S. 231 near Crane. Construction is already underway on the next 27 miles from Crane to Bloomington.
Pence said recently he’s committed to finishing the highway from Bloomington to Indianapolis.
But is a public-private partnership, most likely involving tolls to reimburse the builder/operator, the right way to go? No, according to truckers.
“The unique situation with I-69 is, we have a portion of this road already built and it is toll-free,” says Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs.
“Now we’re going to slap a toll in the middle of the state on this road, and that creates significant problems with diversion of traffic and things like that. Who knows where the concession agreement is going to go with improving parallel routes – concerns we had with the Indiana Toll Road agreement.”
The Indiana Toll Road lease contained a non-compete clause which prevents the state DOT from improving or expanding nearby toll-free routes. The concept is to keep traffic on the toll road, paying tolls.
“It’s bad form,” Bowley said. He says Indiana should take a broader approach to its transportation needs and refrain from signing a decades-long public-private partnership that favors private-sector profit above the needs of roadway users.
“Gov.-Elect Pence is taking a step back and only focusing on short-term rewards. It’s the same argument Gov. Daniels made – that the state’s problems would be fixed because he leased the turnpike.”
“Indiana is, unfortunately, an example of how public-private partnerships do not solve a state’s highway funding needs.”
According to recent studies, the $3.85 billion that Indiana received in exchange for a 75-year lease of the toll road will be spent or spoken for this year or next. Meanwhile, the private operator, ITR Concession Co., will continue to profit from the toll increases through the year 2081.
Truck tolls on the Indiana Toll Road have more than doubled since Daniels signed the lease less than seven years ago.
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