The Herald Bulletin

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March 31, 2014

Public-private plan for I-69 work proves divisive

-- — EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A plan to finance the cost of a section of the new Interstate 69 connection between Indianapolis and Evansville is drawing both praise and ire.

Gov. Mike Pence is getting ready to sign onto a deal with a Dutch-led contractor to construct and maintain the section between Bloomington and Martinsville, the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1dFCcM6 ) reported Saturday. Under terms of that contract, the state would make an $80 million "down payment" to the private partner, which would pay the $325 million estimated for construction. Once that section of highway is complete, the state starts paying the partner $21.8 million a year for 35 years and the company maintains the highway.

If the private developer doesn't keep the road open to traffic and up to Indiana Department of Transportation standards, the state could reduce the annual payment.

Supporters say the public-private partnership is innovative, but critics say the deal will end up costing Indiana taxpayers more in the long run.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels paid up front for the first phases to take the Interstate 69 extension from Evansville to Bloomington out of the $3.8 billion made off the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road and a traditional combination of state and federal funds.

The next section of I-69 will span 21 miles from Bloomington to Martinsville by upgrading Indiana 37 and is expected to open to traffic in 2016. The 26-mile final leg would essentially follow the path of Indiana 37 from Martinsville to Indianapolis.

Jim Tymon, with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, compared the long-term deal with buying a house.

"You have to finance and mortgage it over a number of years. I think that's what you are starting to see with transportation projects as well. States don't have the cash on hand to pay for a big project up front, so, therefore, they are looking to finance it," he told the newspaper.

But not everyone is happy with the deal.

"It's a quick easy fix for government that can't afford to build and maintain the roads that people want. By at least getting it out there, the question is, is that fair to the next generation? We have pushed off the burden to future generations, years beyond what we would be normally paying," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington.

The agreement won't be the first of its kind in Indiana. Daniels, for example, privatized part of the state welfare system, the Indiana Toll Road and management of the Hoosier Lottery.

 

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