Few remember that, as Mitch Daniels promoted his Major Moves public- private partnership tolling lease of the Indiana Toll Road last year, the bill that passed in the Indiana House along party lines would have given the governor the right to privatize and toll any road, bridge, airport or port for up to 100 years with single, upfront payments.
State Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, found agreement with majority Republicans when she said, “I would not give Joe Kernan this authority.”
The Legislature limited Major Moves to the sale of the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years and the privatization of I-69 as an internationally leased and tradable property for up to 100 years, except for a section between Martinsville and Indianapolis.
Only residents of Monroe County are likely aware that Daniels told the Herald-Times editorial staff that I-69 would be a “toll road or no road.”
Now, a year later, Daniels has officially requested that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) remove INDOT’s request to consider new-terrain I-69 for tolling.
Why? Two reasons.
One: The project was not saleable as proposed. The federally accepted section of the ongoing Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study of the Bloomington/Martinsville section of I-69 in Southwest Indiana says on the first page of the 3,000-page document:
“Some previous proposals were studied as toll roads. These proposals were not recommended because the road would not be financially feasible as a toll road. ‘Toll feasibility’ requires that traffic levels not only pay ongoing operating and maintenance costs, but that they also provide revenues sufficient for construction debt service. Being ‘toll feasible’ requires higher traffic volumes than those which justify construction of a non-toll facility.”
Two: Daniels actually confirmed this evaluation with a “re-evaluation of the I-69 study for tolling.” This was a post-Major Moves effort to insert tolling into the I-69 EIS by amendment.
Unfortunately for Daniels, his re-study found too little traffic and that making I-69 a toll road would divert traffic and congestion to other roads.
The Daniels re-evaluation concluded that tolling proposed new-terrain I-69 would defeat two of the study’s goals outright by increasing congestion and decreasing traffic safety.
It also concluded that some sections of I-69 using existing State Road 37 would carry less rather than more cars than now, actually decreasing “mobility.”
Daniels’ INDOT tried to spin that the re-evaluation proved I-69 toll feasible.
But Hoosier environmental and citizen groups challenged the I-69 EIS through a federal lawsuit, in particular the conclusion that tolling was justified by the re-study. Daniels/INDOT had no choice but to withdraw tolling from the I-69 project.
Now, Senate Bill 1 would extend Daniels’ tolling authority to two public-private partnership leases for unstudied loop toll roads. These are a southeastern Indianapolis outer loop, called “Indiana Commerce Corridor” (ICC), connecting existing I-69 on the city’s northeast side to proposed I-69 and continuing to I-70 on the southwest side, and a Northwest Indiana toll loop project called the “Illiana Expressway.”
These two projects, Daniels hypothesizes, would not only be “profitable” enough for privateer road builders and international investors, but their 50-, 75- or 100-year tolling would provide enough surplus funds to build I-69.
Remember “Toll Road or No Road”?
John Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.