By ANNIE GOELLER, Daily Journal of Johnson County staff writer

A proposed 75-mile tollway that would slice through Johnson County south of Franklin would be the largest infrastructure project for the county since Interstate 65 was built more than 30 years ago, a local official said.

The Indiana Commerce Connector, proposed by Gov. Mitch Daniels Thursday, would take drivers in a loop east of Indianapolis from Interstate 69 near Pendleton, head south and then west through Johnson County to Martinsville and north to Interstate 70.

Daniels' hope is that the proposed tollway will bring businesses to the places where it connects with state and national highways, including Franklin, Martinsville, Shelbyville, Greenfield, Pendleton and Mooresville.

No one is sure of the exact route of the highway that stretches about 16 miles through Johnson County, but some officials are speculating it could be anywhere from just south of State Road 44 to somewhere near State Road 252. Daniels said the route would likely consist of new roads.

Local officials said businesses could sprout up along the route, especially if they rely on highways to transport supplies and products. And Franklin's mayor said the highway would open a new realm for economic development in her city.

Daniels said the details of the plan will likely need to be finished by the company that builds and operates the tollway. The governor's plan is to have a public-private partnership where a company builds, maintains and operates the road, but the state still owns the highway and receives a concession fee.

Johnson County Commissioner R.J. McConnell said he had heard that the route would either go along State Road 44 or just south of it. And the former county planning director said he thought initial maps from the state show the route would likely be closer to State Road 252.

Wherever the highway goes, local communities nearby need to be ready to provide infrastructure, such as utilities, if businesses are going to move in, said Bill Peeples, the former county planning director and now a Greenwood city planner.

He expected most companies would likely locate near the intersections with existing highways, such as Interstate 65 in Johnson County.

Franklin Mayor Brenda Jones-Matthews said it was too early to discuss annexation possibilities, but she said the highway would mean a lot for economic development and jobs in the city.

"We want to maintain the quality of life, but we need jobs for the citizens that live in and around Franklin," she said.

The tollway could also serve as an east-west corridor for the southern part of the county but would not replace what is needed to move traffic across the north side of the county, McConnell said.

He said he envisions industrial parks being built around the tollway with high-tech jobs. He doesn't expect to see only truck stops and gas stations along the route, he said.

"If we're doing this just to build truck stops, we're wasting our money," he said.

Peeples said retail businesses, such as restaurants and shops, and subdivisions would likely not locate along the tollway.

"There's not a lot of stopping along a toll road and then getting off and then paying to get back on," he said.

And Peeples and other local officials said the state should be ready for an outcry against the highway.

"As soon as you start new-terraining, you're going to have all the people come out of the woodwork," he said.

John Price, a county council member and the former highway department director, compared the tollway to the natural gas pipeline proposed to run through Johnson County.

"People want to know how much damage it is going to do to rural farmland. We see the resistance we're meeting on the pipeline," Price said.

Part of the reason people might fight the beltway is that it is new to this part of the state, said a White River Township resident who owns a realty company and has served on regional and local development groups.

"In this part of the state, we're not used to toll roads," said Lou Zickler of Zickler Associates.

Jones-Matthews said she expected resistance but said she thought it would only come from a small part of the population.

"There are always pros and cons to everything. Nobody wants it in their back yard, but I think this is a plan for the future of Indiana," she said.