Southern Indiana Toll Road


Southern Indiana Toll Road

The Southern Indiana Toll Road was a proposed toll expressway through southern Indiana expected to be included as part of the 142-mile (227 km) Interstate 69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville. Under legislation enacted by the Indiana Legislature in March 2006, the Southern Indiana Toll Road was to have run 117 miles (188 km) from Interstate 64 at the interchange with Interstate 164 north of Evansville to Martinsville. The remaining 25 miles between Martinsville and Indianapolis were to be toll-free. Due to its unpopularity with residents and officials along the proposed route, plans for the SITR were scrapped in lieu of a toll-free I-69 expressway between Indianapolis and Evansville in November 2006. Underlying the decision to abandon further study on the SITR was the fact that analyses from several firms interested in developing, building and operating the toll road indicated that the route would not generate sufficient traffic—and toll revenue—for such an investment.

History

Development

Discussion of building an Interstate-quality expessway between Indianapolis and Evansville has been ongoing for nearly 60 years. When the existing section of Interstate 69 through northern Indiana was built, it was planned to continue south to Evansville. However, lack of funding and environmental issues have stalled the project for 30 years. When the United States Congress enacted the Intermodal Surface and Transportation Efficiency Act in the mid-1990s, it established High Priority Corridors 18 and 20. Together these corridors mandate the construction of an Interstate highway from Port Huron, Michigan to Brownsville, Texas. The new highway was designated Interstate 69. The routing of the highway has proven to be controversial in Indiana. After nearly 10 years of studies and close coordination between the Federal Highway Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Indiana Department of Transportation, the final route for I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville was announced in March 2004. At that time it was still uncertain when the extension would be built, since no funds were available to construct the $1.8 billion expressway.

Nonetheless, the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation have been extremely methodical in the environmental studies required for the SITR to be built. State and federal highway officials have opted to use a two-tier environmental study along with close coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other state and federal agencies to ensure the proposed route can withstand any legal challenge that may be brought forth by opponents. While officials have performed studies on dozens of possible alignments over the past 30 years, the most recent round of environmental studies for the SITR have been ongoing since 1992.

Major Moves

However, in November 2005, Governor Mitch Daniels announced a the Major Moves initiative, which would raise billions of dollars for transportation projects by leasing the Indiana East-West Toll Road. Legislation enacted in March 2006 authorized Governor Daniels to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a joint-venture between Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Cintra for $3.8 billion. The same legislation also authorized a similar public-private partnership for design, construction, and operation of 117 miles of Interstate 69 between Martinsville and Evansville as a toll expressway. This comes following new highway legislation by Congress in January 2006 that allocated over $58 million to upgrade Indiana 37 to a full expressway from Indianapolis to Bloomington, regardless of what happens with I-69.

Controversy polarizes Hoosiers

Opposition groups, including various community groups and local governments, cited environmental issues and the cost of extending I-69. In some instances, opponents of the Southern Indiana Toll Road have resorted to extreme democratic actions to protest the I-69 extension, including petition signing by more than 144,000 Hoosiers along the proposed I-69 corridor and mass mailings of opposition to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Other acts of protest included the vandalizing of the Indiana State Capitol by protesters who spray-painted "I-69 is the enemy" and "No I-69" on the side of the limestone building. In 2005, environmental extremists opposed to the extension set fire to I-69 project offices near Bloomington. In 2007, a group performed a mock eviction of the I-69 project office in Oakland City.

Controversy continues to polarize communities along the route. The current proposed routing of the SITR is strongly opposed in Bloomington and Martinsville, while there is strong support in Evansville and Washington. The United States Navy also supports the current routing because it will provide access to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. The proposed route has also been opposed by some national environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, the Earth Liberation Front, and Roadless Summer. The SITR is also supported by the Teamsters union, which represents many truck drivers, the American Trucking Association, and several trade unions representing the construction industry.

The planned SITR has also pitted cities, towns, and counties against one another. Bloomington and Martinsville both oppose upgrading State Road 37 to Interstate 69. The greatest support for I-69 is in Indiana's far southwestern counties and Evansville, while the greatest opposition is between Bloomington and Indianapolis. Since the southwest corner is the only region not served by an interstate highway to Indianapolis, officials here allege that highway opponents are blocking I-69 construction in an attempt to further isolate this region from the remainder of the state. To the west, communities along US-41 favor the presently selected alignment in lieu of the only other feasible routing: I-70 to Terre Haute, then US-41 south to Evansville.

Major Moves lawsuit

After the signing of Major Moves, highway opponents immediately filed two lawsuits to block the toll road lease legislation, arguing it violated the Indiana State Constitution. Among the arguments the plaintiffs contested that funds generated from the sale of a state public works asset must go to the state's General Fund (though the legislation does not "sell" state assets, but rather "leases" maintenance and operation of them.) However, the underlying reason driving this lawsuit was the fact that Major Moves legislation provided the I-69 extension with a funding source, and also authorized the State of Indiana to hire a private firm to design, build, and operate the Martinsville-Evansville I-69 segment as the Southern Indiana Toll Road.

In May 2006, St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis issued a ruling declaring it a public suit (one that questions a public improvement) and as such required the plaintiffs to post a $1.9 billion bond to continue the suit. In response plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's ruling. With no means for the opposition to post the bond, Major Moves, and thus the proceeding of the Southern Indiana Toll Road, took effect with the closing of the deal at 12:00 noon (local time) on June 29, 2006.

Opponents file lawsuit, supporters plan countersuit

Opponents launched a second challenge to the routing of the SITR, filing a lawsuit with the US District Court in Indianapolis on October 3, 2006. Members of three environmental groups and six residents allege INDOT, FHWA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Army Corps of Engineers "rigged" the environmental studies to support the planned alignment, officially known as Alternative 3C. In fact, INDOT has already studied the proposed Evansville to Bloomington to Indianapolis corridor and they already concluded the route was not "feasible for tolling." The fact that the environmental studies are still ongoing will make opponents' case in court likely to be dismissed, since there is no Record of Decision finalizing the presently proposed route. Immediately following the filing of the lawsuit by Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, the Environmental Policy Center, and six residents, rumors began circulating that the Teamsters and the American Trucking Association were preparing to lead a countersuit to prevent opponents from derailing the project. While Governor Daniels withdrew toll road plans in lieu of a toll-free I-69 in late 2006, the lawsuit to block the I-69 through southwest Indiana was subsequently thrown out by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in December 2007.

Alternative plans proposed

In October 2006 Democratic State Representatives David Crooks and Trent Van Haaften proposed revising Major Moves legislation to make the entire 142-mile length of I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis as part of the Southern Indiana Toll Road. Under their proposal the SITR would be operated by either the Indiana Department of Transportation, or a public authority to be established by future legislation. Additionally, the proposal calls for the SITR construction bonds to be paid off 30-40 years following the road's completion, at which point the tolls would be removed. [ [http://www.indianaeconomicdigest.net/main.asp?SectionID=31&SubSectionID=66&ArticleID=29763 Daniels leery of I-69 toll plan, Indiana Economic Digest, 7 October 2006] ]

Plans

Nearly 15 years of environmental studies are wrapping up on both the toll and free sections of the I-69 extension between Indianapolis and Evansville. Project engineers and designers are currently identifying exact placement of interchanges, bridge structures, and connecting roads. In June 2006, officials revisited their decision from the Tier 1 EIS to account for the effects of tolling on the route, preparing a [http://www.i69indyevn.org/Tier_1_Reeval.pdf Tier 1 reevaluation report] that concluded that the previously-selected route remained the preferred alternative, even with tolls; the report was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in the fall of 2006.

With the route being constructed toll-free, INDOT is completing environmental studies on the six individual segments, with the southernmost 13-mile (22 km) section being the closest to starting construction.

ITR cancelled; I-69 Extension to be toll-free

On November 9, 2006, Governor Mitch Daniels announced plans for a 75-mile (120 km) outer loop around Indianapolis known as the Indiana Commerce Corridor. If constructed the route would be 100% private funded, with a portion of the revenues possibly applied to constructing I-69 through southwest Indiana. This plan also opened up the possibility of I-69 using the Indiana Commerce Corridor to bypass Indianapolis, thereby keeping the proposed I-69 extension away from southwest Marion County, where opposition to I-69 is particularly strong. Furthermore, the ICC plan also revives options for the State of Indiana to use its share of the toll road revenues to construct I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis. [ [http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061110/LOCAL/61109043 Gov Wants Toll Road Loop Around Indy, Indianapolis Star, November 10, 2006] ]

On the same day Governor Daniels announced that I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis will be built as a toll-free expressway, effectively canceling plans for the Southern Indiana Toll Road. [ [http://www.indianaeconomicdigest.net/main.asp?SectionID=31&SubSectionID=66&ArticleID=30367 Daniels: No Tolls on I-69, Indiana Economic Digest, November 9, 2006] ]

Since the Indiana General Assembly has not repealed language in the 2006 Major Moves law authorizing construction of the SITR, officials could resurrect SITR plans in the future should efforts to build the I-69 extension as a toll-free route fail.

What if the SITR were built?

Design

The Southern Indiana Toll Road would have likely been constructed as a ticket system, similar to the eastern portion of the Indiana East-West Toll Road, the Ohio and New Jersey Turnpikes, many of the Expressways of Japan, and part of the North Luzon Expressway in the Philippines. Under a closed system, motorists obtain a ticket upon entering the toll road, then pay the toll upon exiting. Electronic tolling using the I-Zoom program was expected. The road would have also been built to Interstate standards, with two 12-foot travel lanes in each direction (possibly widening to three lanes in each direction between Indianapolis and Bloomington), an 84-foot wide median, 7-foot wide left shoulders and 11-foot wide right shoulders. Overpass clearances would have been 16-feet, while bridges would have been designed to carry a load of 80 tons.

Private sector involvement

During the summer and fall of 2006 the Indiana Department of Transportation had been developing a plan to solicit proposals from private corporations that will oversee design, construction, and operation of the Southern Indiana Toll Road. In exchange, the State of Indiana was to receive $2.0 billion from the winning bidder when the deal is finalized ahead of construction. The planned P3 arrangement would be similar to the Spanish-Australian joint-venture that took over operation and maintenance of the Indiana East-West Toll Road in northern Indiana in June 2006.

References


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