IBJ Graphic
IBJ Graphic

By ANNIE GOELLER, Daily Journal of Johnson County staff writer

A massive road project announced Thursday by Gov. Mitch Daniels would create a loop around parts of greater Indianapolis and go south of Franklin.

The $1.5 billion beltway would link interstates and run 75 miles from Interstate 69 near Pendleton to Interstate 70 west of Indianapolis International Airport, making its way through five counties, including Johnson County.

The road would be the biggest infrastructure project in Johnson County since Interstate 65 was built in the early 1970s.

In Johnson County, the tollway would run through about 16 miles of mostly rural land, likely between State Roads 44 and 252, some officials said. It would intersect with Interstate 65 south of Franklin.

Daniels said the beltway should consist of mostly new roads rather than an upgrade of existing roadways.

The tollway would relieve traffic on Interstate 465, bringing new businesses and jobs to the areas where the tollway connects with state and national highways and giving people and companies that work with the new Honda plant a quick route to its location in Greensburg.

"When we bring a Honda plant, it costs some extra money to get those roads for those extra jobs," he said.

He said the roadway would stimulate economic development by linking six interstates in the five counties it would pass through. As proposed, the tollway would pass near Pendleton, Greenfield, Shelbyville, Franklin, Martinsville and Mooresville.

"We have a chance to create six tremendous new job zones without a penny of borrowing or a tax increase. We've talked to leaders in communities across these counties, and they are enthusiastic," Daniels said in a statement.

He said he believed companies would want to locate along the route because land there would be cheaper than at locations inside Indianapolis and around I-465.

And for companies that will supply Honda, the tollway means a faster route to the plant in Decatur County. The roadway would be a direct route from businesses in Martinsville or Franklin to Interstate 74 in Shelbyville. From there, the Honda plant is located about 18 miles southeast on I-74.

"The Honda plant stays much closer to a customer or supplier, for instance, from down south," he said.

The governor said a company would build the proposed Indiana Commerce Connector tollway.

A concession fee private investors would pay to build the highway would help finance the state's proposed I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville, planned to run along State Road 37 through Johnson County and into Indianapolis.

"I-69 will need another revenue source to get done. Major Moves got us started. I believe the Commerce Connector can get us the rest of the way," he said.

Daniels also said that the planned extension of I-69, which passes through the northwest corner of Johnson County, would be toll-free.

A state law passed this spring specifies that the I-69 project would be a tollway from Martinsville to Evansville. Daniels' plan is to ask legislators to transfer that approval to the new proposed tollway, allowing tolls to be charged to drivers. An estimate of how much those tolls will be is unknown.

He expects that the majority of users on the tollway would be out-of-state drivers passing through Central Indiana who do not want to deal with traffic and congestion on I-465.

"Traffic on the roads is becoming so busy these days, it's beginning to become a problem," Daniels said.

In Johnson County, the beltway would give motorists a quick route to Indianapolis International Airport and I-70 west of Indianapolis and north to I-69, leading to Anderson and Ball State University.

An alternate route for motorists around the city would also save the state on future improvements as traffic increases.

"Money to expand, expand, expand I-465, that's money we can use elsewhere in Indiana," he said.

If state lawmakers approve his proposal, the governor said a public-private partnership would design, build, operate and maintain the connector. The state would own the tollway that would pass through Madison, Hancock, Shelby, Johnson and Morgan counties, linking up with I-70 west of Mooresville, he said. The company that builds the road would keep the tolls collected.

The governor said parts of the route could be open in the next few years and the full tollway would be open to traffic within 10 years of groundbreaking.

So far, Daniels said he had received support for his idea from local officials and state legislators. He said he hadn't gotten feedback yet from Democratic lawmakers but expected to get support from many of them as well.

No route is fixed yet, and the exact plan will depend on the company that builds it, he said.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will immediately begin work to estimate the cost of the project, determine its route, analyze traffic patterns, examine potential toll rates and revenues, Daniels said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.