As legislators brace for a $250 million annual transportation spending gap down the road, the Indiana Department of Transportation has designated more than one-third of its entire federal highway aid this year toward building 27 miles of Interstate 69 between Crane and Bloomington.

A report INDOT filed with the Federal Highway Administration states that 36 percent—or $281.3 million—of the $791 million Indiana will receive this year in federal road funding has been allocated to this stretch of I-69 in 2013.

That’s in addition to the $70 million in state highway funds budgeted in 2013 for so-called Section 4.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield counters that the $281.3 million in federal funds apportioned to Section 4 this year is merely an accounting technique for FHWA. It’s not clear that much will be spent this year on the 27-mile section until contracts are awarded, he said.

But some think it’s time to apply the brakes on the controversial interstate driven by former Gov. Mitch Daniels at a time local governments are clamoring for more money and as INDOT grapples with its own deteriorating roads and bridges.

“The General Assembly is in a state of denial when it comes to the cost of I-69,” said State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington. “This project is sucking up such a huge amount of money that is unavailable for other projects.”

State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he’s heard pleas from local highway officials in his district for more funding to maintain roads. A recession and property tax caps have strained county and municipal coffers.

“They just can’t entice businesses if their roads are falling apart,” said Lanane, who has proposed tapping about $50 million from the state sales tax on gas for transportation needs.

That I-69 was begun without an assurance of funding for the entire 142-mile length is especially “aggravating” now that funding for other projects and I-69 is becoming more of an issue, he added.

With proceeds from the $3.8 billion in Indiana Toll Road lease winding down, INDOT essentially is without enough money to build the final two sections of I-69 between Bloomington and I-465 on the south side of Indianapolis.
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