INDIANAPOLIS — A key Indiana senator wants funding for a proposed toll road around Indianapolis' congested Interstate 465 bypass — a proposal that was dropped in 2007 amid strong public opposition.
Sen. Luke Kenley, chairman of the Senate's budget-writing committee, wants some of the $400 million Senate Republican leaders have included in their proposed budget for highway expansion projects to go toward the proposed Indiana Commerce Connector.
That toll road would form a loop beyond I-465 that could link Muncie, Martinsville and Indianapolis International Airport. A Senate budget presentation estimated the cost would be $1.52 billion.
Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the proposed toll road would keep Indiana at the forefront of the transportation, logistics and warehousing industries once combined with completion of Interstate 69 and the expansion of interstates 70 and 65 to six lanes.
"That has been one of our biggest growth industries," Kenley said. He said the bypass would also ease congestion in Hamilton County.
The toll road is only one part of a much larger budget proposal lawmakers won't finalize until the end of this month as House and Senate negotiators work out their differences. But the House budget does not endorse the Commerce Connector. And Kenley's House counterpart, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said the project has not been part of the budget discussions in his chamber.
Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed the toll road concept in 2006, but dropped the plan months later in the face of strong public opposition.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he continues to believe the project would be a waste of money, worsen suburban sprawl and result in residents driving more.
"It's a bad idea," he said. "We would be much better off putting the money toward mass transit or new intersections" that speed traffic flow, such as roundabouts, he said.
Gov. Mike Pence declined to comment directly on whether he would support the Commerce Connector idea. But his spokeswoman said that when it comes to the state's highway needs, Pence is "committed to taking care of what we've got, finishing what we've started and planning for the future."
During his campaign, Pence said he wanted to create a blue ribbon panel to make infrastructure recommendations that would attract new investment and bring jobs.
While the Commerce Connector remains only a distant possibility, opponents are asking why it's being discussed at all given the previous uproar it caused.
Keegan Poe, a Franklin resident and regional manager for the Indiana Farm Bureau in Johnson County, told The Indianapolis Star that residents in rural Shelby and Johnson counties continue to oppose the project.
"It was going to tear up a lot of farm ground and not benefit the county much," he said.
Cathy Burton, the president of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, said the group still dislikes the plan.
"We are still opposed to this unnecessary piece of pavement," she said. "Indiana needs to spend some time making sure the roadways we have are in good condition."