Gov. Mitch Daniels created a firestorm in 2006 with his solution: Privatize the Indiana Toll Road.
The 75-year lease of the 175-mile road in northern Indiana, to an Australian-Spanish consortium, closed June 29.
The deal that gave the state a $3.8 billion check to finance other highway projects under Daniels’ Major Moves program not only lives on in controversy, but also could be the defining legacy of his administration.
Daniels recently proposed privatizing the Indiana Lottery. And his team already has picked a company to privatize the state’s administration of welfare payments.
And Daniels’ public-private highway ideas just keep coming. This fall he dusted off some old state and federal studies and proposed a partial outer interstate loop around the east and south sides of Indianapolis.
The Indiana Commerce Connector would stretch about 75 miles: from I-69, near Pendleton, then south, generally following Indiana 9 though Greenfield. It would turn west near Shelbyville, roughly in line with Indiana 44, to Martinsville. It would terminate at I-70 west of Indianapolis International Airport.
The partial loop would charge tolls. The state would own the road but lease it to a private operator. Sound familiar?
The governor’s team said the loop would boost economic development and help serve Honda’s auto assembly plant, which is under construction near Greensburg. Toll money from the Indiana Commerce Connector also could give Daniels cover from a political firecracker-helping pay for the $2 billion cost of the proposed I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville. Daniels touted privatizing of the northern Indiana toll road as
a way to create jobs and make improvements to the road the state couldn’t otherwise afford.
Democrats warn that the for-profit objective of a private operator will make for higher tolls in the years ahead.