Lindsay Whitehurst, Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS - The Pendleton area could become the northern end of a new central Indiana toll road loop if a proposal by Gov. Mitch Daniels becomes reality.

The 75-mile Indiana Commerce Connector, would start at Interstate 69 near Pendleton, though the exact spot isn't decided yet. The toll road would run south to Shelbyville, east to Martinsville, and connect with Interstate 70 near Mooresville.

The plan would remove a proposed toll on the Interstate 69 extension project to Evansville.

Local officials had mixed reactions to the $1.5 billion proposal, which would be funded through a public-private partnership. Some supported the economic development opportunities Daniels said the road would bring and others questioned the implications, both financial and environmental.

"The simplest and most important statement to bear in mind is roads equals jobs," said Daniels, speaking at a gathering of the American Council of Engineering Companies Thursday. The project has, "tremendous opportunities to bring jobs, employment and a higher standard of living to the crossroads of America."

The next step is asking the Indiana General Assembly to transfer the I-69 extension toll to the proposed road.

State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-25, said some serious questions need to be answered first.

"They want to take the tolls and transfer them from southern Indiana to central Indiana," he said. "I'm trying to weigh in mind how much economic development it would mean for Madison County."

The beltway would be built entirely on new land and run about 20 miles outside the I-465 loop. Construction could begin within six years and be open to traffic within 10 years.

The project would be built and operated by a private company, which would pay the state a concession fee. The state would own the road and set the tolls.

The road would solve two looming problems, according to a press release from the governor's office. The revenue from the tolls would pay for extension of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville; even after leasing the toll road as part of Major Moves last year, the government only had $700 million of the $2 billion required to build the road.

The road would also ease congestion on Interstate 69.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see all the cars between 7 and 9 a.m.," Chuck Staley, president and CEO of the Flagship Enterprise Center, said.

He agreed with the assertion that the road would bring new opportunities to Anderson.

"It will connect Madison County to a the dynamic and growing Indianapolis market," he said. "One of the reasons the Flagship has done as well as it has is the connection to the fast growing Hamilton County area."

The growth promised by the proposal isn't in opposition to Pendleton's policy of strictly controlled development, Town Council President Don Henderson said.

"We can maintain the historical identity of Pendleton as we grow," he said.

The road's exact route, including where in the Pendleton area it would be built, would be determined by the company chosen to build it. It would connect Interstates 69, 70, 74, 65 and the new Interstate 69 extension.

But for local farmers, the idea of more land being used for development, especially if it's taken under imminent domain laws, is a scary prospect.

"Let's maintain some agricultural lands," said Green Township Trustee Greg Valentine, whose township represents a possible location for the highway. "I do hope they don't have to use imminent domain. I just don't like taking that approach."