Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What I-69 Project?

The long-awaited I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville appeared to become a reality last year when the legislature approved Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves initiative which raised $3.8 billion from the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road. We learned at the beginning of this legislative session that the I-69 promise was a fat lie when Gov. Daniels told us we could build the I-69 extension only if he received immediate approval to build a new outer beltway toll road to the east of Indianapolis --the Indiana Commerce Connector--to serve as a link from the northeast to the southwest side of Indianapolis for the I-69 project.

Even worse, House Democrats have passed a budget which provides absolutely no funding for the I-69 project. Instead, they are tapping $60 million of toll roll revenues to pay for legislators' favorite local highway projects--or put more bluntly--pork barrel. The Evansville Courier & Press' Byan Corbin writes:

Although House Democrats declined to include any funding for one of his top priorities - Interstate 69 - and decided to spend some of the intended money on local roads and streets instead, Gov. Mitch Daniels remained confident Tuesday that funding for the interstate highway will be reinstated during the budgeting process.

The Republican governor was upbeat about the funding prospects for I-69 as he commented on the politics involved in the budget process.

The state budget must start in the Indiana House, which Democrats control 51-49, before it moves to the state Senate. The top Democrat, House Speaker Patrick Bauer, has been Daniels' collaborator on some issues but adversary on others.

"I think it's just the master maneuverer (Bauer) having some fun with us, and it's OK," Daniels said. "I don't really think there's a party position on the (Democratic) side to kill I-69; I don't think that."

On largely party-line votes last week, House Democrats advanced a $26 billion state budget without the funding that the Indiana Department of Transportation wanted for I-69 construction.

Democrats turned back an amendment that would have released that funding. And after passing the budget bill, they also passed House Bill 1830, which spends $60 million out of interest on the Major Moves construction fund for local roads and streets.

Although the fund's principal would not be touched, INDOT had raised concerns, saying it was counting on both the principal and the interest for big-ticket highway projects such as I-69. Democratic Rep. Dennis Avery, vice chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, agreed that House Democrats do not oppose building Interstate 69. They did not include I-69 funding in their budget, House Bill 1001, because INDOT officials were not specific enough in their responses to the Ways and Means committee, Avery said.

"Obviously maneuvering is part of it; but I think it's an expression of concern about the lack of full cooperation," said Avery, D-Evansville.

House Bill 1830, which passed last week, would draw $60 million from the $1.1 billion Major Moves construction fund and spend it on local road and street projects in all 92 counties - not on INDOT's 10-year highway project list that included I-69.

House Bill 1830 is "discussible," Daniels said. "Its heart is in the right place," he said. "It's essential to preserve the trust fund for reinvestment in permanent assets. So this is not raiding the cookie jar for today's spending, which I would strongly oppose."

But the governor noted that some Major Moves proceeds -$150 million over two years -already were drawn upon last year for local roads.

"For the moment, I think it would be more prudent to leave it there, because the rest of the trust fund is now targeted for I-69 and many other projects. I think it's a little early to start drawing down on that for any other purpose," Daniels said. "If we do too much of that, we'd have to start taking projects from off of the bottom of the list, and I don't want to do that."

Last year's Major Moves lease of northern Indiana's toll road - which Daniels advocated for and all House Democrats opposed - generated $3.86 billion in funding for infrastructure projects. Of that, $1.1 billion was set aside for the Major Moves construction fund. INDOT had planned to spend $44 million out of that fund in 2008 to start building I-69, followed by $75 million for the interstate in 2009.

Daniels has said the Major Moves funds would cover I-69 construction from Evansville to the Crane warfare center.

To extend I-69 from Crane to Indianapolis and make it a freeway its entire distance, Daniels proposes using $1 billion to $1.5 billion in proceeds from a proposed new privatized tollway through suburban Indianapolis.

Let's just watch as the legislature and the governor wind up pissing away those toll road revenues for self-serving pork barrel projects instead of projects which meet the state's long-term infrastructure needs.


Sir Hailstone said...

The long-awaited I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne


Gary R. Welsh said...

What can I say, it was early in the morning.

Anonymous said...

The I69 debate isn't only taking place within Indiana. It's being promoted in every state from here to Texas. The primary purpose of the project is to provide a conduit from Mexico to Canada. That's why our loyal governor is holding the I69 project over a barrel until he gets approval for his outer beltway. He has ever-so-thoughtfully decided that all of the north-south traffic should be routed around our major metropolitan areas, since it won't be headed for Indianapolis in the first place. At our expense, of course.

You can thank Mitch for putting Indiana revenue to work in order to benefit foreign economies.

Sir Hailstone said...

Let's just watch as the legislature and the governor wind up pissing away those toll road revenues for self-serving pork barrel projects instead of projects which meet the state's long-term infrastructure needs.

How does that mutual fund disclaimer read? "Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results" -- when it comes to General Assembly it's a pretty damn good indicator.

Anonymous said...

Give a polititian a million and they will figure out how to spned 10 million.

Anonymous said...

The real kicker is that I-69 if built from Nuevo Laredo (the drug capital of the world) to Port Huron will be 84 and more miles longer than two existing interstate systems to the same two cities. Take a look here. Both existing routes already go through Indiana and are not tolled.