"The new Indiana Commerce Connector highway

Some major changes have been announced concerning Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves initiative for Indiana transportation. Last week, the governor proposed the construction of the Indiana Commerce Connector, a new highway he has coined “an outerbelt tollway” that would link six interstates through Morgan, Johnson, Shelby, Hancock and Madison counties.

According to Daniels, the connector would stimulate economic development for many regions of the state and ease traffic congestion on existing interstates, the I-465 loop and other highways.

As part of the announcement, Daniels also said there will be no tolls on Interstate 69 (I-69) from Evansville to Indianapolis. He has directed the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to notify the Federal Highway Administration that the state is moving forward with the plan to build I-69 as a non-toll interstate.

“We have the chance to create six tremendous new job zones without a penny of borrowing or a tax increase. We’ve talked to leaders in communities across these counties and they are enthusiastic, so I want to move quickly to measure the transportation marketplace interest in building this road with private funds while paying the state money we can use to help complete I-69 and other critical investments in our future,” Daniels said.

Shelbyville Mayor Scott Furgeson said such a road would be a great economic development tool for his community. “The more access a community has, the better we are. Every company looking for a good location looks for ease of access, so another major thoroughfare would be a great asset for us,” he said.

But not everyone is pleased with the addition of a second new highway being built south of Indianapolis. Martinsville residents, in particular, are worried about where this second highway will go and if it will bisect their small town.

“They’re only looking at one thing,” says resident James Pennington, “but economic development is an idea, not a guarantee. And it doesn’t address the air and land pollution or the devastation of this country town. We’ll be nothing but a truck stop if they build these two highways through Martinsville.”

Pennington and his wife Susan have lived in their lakeside home in Martinsville for more than 10 years, a home they now have on the market.

“We’ve been fighting this I-69 highway for a long time, and we’re losing. The only thing to do now is what we have done: put the house up for sale. I’ve lost the words to describe what this is doing to us,” Pennington says.

Daniels will seek legislation during the 2007 legislative session to transfer the tolling authority the Indiana General Assembly granted this year for the Evansville to Indianapolis segment of I-69 to the new Indiana Commerce Connector. The governor would utilize a public-private partnership to design, build, operate and maintain the Indiana Commerce Connector.

INDOT will immediately commence work to estimate the connector’s cost, establish its specific location, analyze traffic patterns, explore toll rates and revenues and determine the connector’s value. Preliminarily, INDOT believes the value of the project would not only be enough to build the connector itself but would generate contributions toward funding other projects. Private funding to design and build the tollway could speed its construction, shaving years off the normal processes.

“Major Moves gave us a way to get started on I-69 by 2008, a decade ahead of the previous plan. And it provided enough cash to build at least to Crane. Now, we’ve got an even better idea about how to finish the job,” Daniels said.

INDOT’s budget includes $700 million of Major Moves money to start building I-69 in 2008. Ground will be broken outside of Evansville, near Interstate 64 and State Road 57, along the federally-approved route, and will proceed north toward Indianapolis. The Major Moves money is expected to build the portion of the road from Evansville to the Crane Naval Warfare Center in approximately six years after construction begins. The estimated construction cost of the entire highway is more than $2 billion.

“We listened carefully to the concerns of some Hoosiers about tolling I-69, and about traffic between Martinsville and I-465, and we’ve come up with a solution,” the governor said.

“There are enormous additional benefits. There would be less congestion and traffic on the northeast corridor of Indianapolis, and we could save hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction at various points around Interstate 465 and throughout Central Indiana. You’d see a major reduction in through traffic, especially trucks, that now use I-465 and the spaghetti bowl in downtown Indianapolis to make their way across Central Indiana,” Daniels said.

The precise route of the Commerce Connector has not been determined. It would be about 75 miles in length and will be owned by the state of Indiana. The company selected to build the road would determine where construction would begin and would open various segments as they are completed. It is expected — provided the next Legislature transfers the tolling authority — that the entire project could be open to traffic within 10 years of the first groundbreaking.

“I’m not against progress,” James Pennington says. “But I am against unbridled tearing down the old and putting up the new just so you can look like you’re making progress. None of these officials, including the governor, are thinking about the consequences of these new roads on the people who are going to lose their homes, people like my wife and me.”

 

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