Interstate 69 will not be tolled, INDOT insists

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Friday, January 18, 2013

Interstate 69 in Indiana will not be a toll road, state transportation officials insist, even if others including some lawmakers are questioning where the money to finish the project will come from.

The Indiana Department of Transportation completed the first 67-mile stretch of the project from Evansville to Crane in November 2012. Construction is underway on the next 27 miles from Crane to Bloomington, set to open in 2014.

Those phases were paid for in part by proceeds from the 2006 lease of the Indiana Toll Road to private investors.

Recent reports show the money from the $3.85 billion lease is nearly all spent or spoken for, leaving the state looking for funding options for the remaining 48 miles of I-69 to Indianapolis.

INDOT favors a public-private partnership to complete the project, but insists it will be toll-free.

The agency issued a request for information in December 2012, asking potential designers and builders for their thoughts on “availability payments” – incentives paid to the investor as construction progresses.

But what the state will pay does not answer the question of how the state will pay. Some officials including at least one state senator have been quoted as saying the project cannot be completed without tolls.

INDOT’s request for information says the agency favors private-activity bonds and/or a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to pay for the roadway.

INDOT’s “no-toll” plan for I-69 dates back seven years to promises made by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels – the same governor who signed the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road. That promise may have been easy to keep back then, with $3.85 billion coming in from the lease, but with lease proceeds drying up, the funding issue falls to the Hoosier State’s new governor, Mike Pence.

Pence took office in January, immediately declaring that I-69 would be completed even if the state had yet to sort out the funding mechanism. He had not gone on record about tolls as of press time, but indicates he favors “various options” including innovative financing and public-private partnerships for transportation projects in general.

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