Indiana governor withdraws proposal for toll road bypass

Gov. Daniels withdraws proposed toll road bypass east and south of Indianapolis, scales back plans for similar project in northeastern Ind.

News AASHTO Journal April 04, 2007
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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels recently announced he will withdraw a proposal he unveiled last November, to build a toll road bypass east and south of Indianapolis, and also scaled back plans for a similar project in the northeastern part of the state, the Indianapolis Star reported.

Daniels' decision was expressed in a letter to leaders in the Indiana Legislature, noting that substantial opposition to the proposals emerged in recent public hearings sponsored by a legislative committee and attended by thousands of citizens.

"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 wrote as he announced the withdrawal of a tolling plan for a road known as the Commerce Connector and the reduction in scope of the earlier 50-mile Illiana Expressway, now to be held to a 10-mile section between I-65 and the Illinois state line.

The proposal called for a private entity to build and operate the bypass, and the second road was to be partially paid for with proceeds from the first project.

Indiana House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, a South Bend Democrat, said Daniels "did the only thing he could do...But if he hadn't done it, we would have done it for him."

On March 22, about 1,500 people went to a hearing in Shelby County, which became so packed that the state fire marshal's office had to keep some of the crowd away. An estimated 200 people remained in the parking lot.

State Rep. Sean Eberhart, a Shelbyville Republican, said most of the people who spoke at the hearing expressed opposition, many due to concerns the proposed roads would harm their rural lifestyle.

The chairwoman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee that held the hearings, Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson) said new ways of dealing with traffic congestion will need to be considered, including discussions of expanded transit.

State Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne) said he was disappointed at Daniels' decision. There is a need for new solutions to fund transportation needs, he said.

Daniels has been a national leader in the movement to build more U.S. roads using tolling, or public-private partnerships that sell or lease a previously publicly owned asset to a private firm which then tolls for its use. Daniels won legislative approval to lease the existing Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 billion, with the proceeds to finance a 10-year transportation program dubbed "Major Moves."

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