Evansville Courier & Press

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has removed another barricade blocking the timely construction of Interstate 69 between Evansville and Indianapolis.

He now says the proposed highway can be toll-free.

Of course, for that to happen, the Indiana Legislature will have to allow him to move forward with an imaginative plan for an outer interstate loop around part of Indianapolis.

The 75-mile loop would be a toll road, would be built by a private-public partnership, would connect with other interstates, and would run from the existing Interstate 69 northeast of Indianapolis, east and south of the city, ending somewhere near the airport on the southwest side.

Daniels is betting that the project, named the Indiana Commerce Connector, would stimulate economic growth in nearby communities in central Indiana and modernize traffic movement in that part of the state.

More important to Southwestern Indiana, the plan would allow construction to begin on Interstate 69 near Evansville without all the hassle about tolls.

Supporters of Interstate 69 had come to accept in the past year that if the highway is to be constructed any time in the next decade, tolls would be necessary. Supporters didn't like it, especially when the Legislature said tolls would not be allowed on the leg between Martinsville and Indianapolis. But most said that that was the price Southern Indiana motorists would likely have to pay to have the highway built.

There was another concern, as well. Should the Democrats regain control of the Indiana House, they might fight the toll issue, delaying the project indefinitely.

In response, House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend went out of his way to say, on a visit to Evansville in September, that highway supporters had nothing to worry about if Democrats regained power. He said that they, too, support construction of the highway.

We welcomed that statement, yet it seemed possible that Democrats might still attempt to tinker with the toll issue.

As it turns out, the Democrats did regain control of the Indiana House on Tuesday, and Bauer is again the man in charge, the speaker of the House. But, he says, Democrats will work with the governor on tough issues.

Again, that's welcome, but Bauer can make the folks in Southern Indiana true believers by staying out of the way of Daniels' plan for the Indiana Commerce Connector and the timely construction of I-69.

Thanks to Daniels' Major Moves initiative, Indiana already has $700 million in the bank, put aside for I-69. That is enough to take construction from Evansville north to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. Daniels said Thursday that concession fees from private investors on the Indiana Commerce Connector could be used to help pay to take I-69 on to Indianapolis.

Daniels deserves credit. In a short time as governor, he has taken I-69 from a half-century dream to a project that could be under way the year after next.

This newest proposal to modernize Indiana's highways with a connector loop sounds good to us. We say again, let's turn some dirt.

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