(UNDATED) - Next year's highway construction budget will be double what it was last year.
In seven more years, it'll double again. But what may be Indiana's best-known and most debated highway project may stretch on after Major Moves is complete.
Major Moves includes 694-million dollars for the long-awaited extension of I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville. Unlike most major moves projects, that was never intended to cover the whole cost.
Governor Daniels proposed making the extension a privately-run toll road to complete the funding package. Last fall, he changed course, suggesting a beltway toll road through the Indianapolis suburbs, with the proceeds helping to build 69.
Opposition to that was even fiercer than to tolls on 69. The law still allows tolls on 69, but Daniels has dropped both proposals. He hasn't offered a plan c, but says the road will get built.
"Plan C is to build as much as we can with the free money we have captured, and then finish it with the funds that were always intended, funds out of the highway budget of the state," Daniels says. "The good news is it won't be devouring more than half of all the road funds Indiana needs (any more). It will be a manageable problem."
INDOT estimates the Major Moves money is enough to build the first 86 miles of the highway, from Evansville to Crane -- a little more than halfway to Indy.
Tom Tokarski with the Bloomington-based group Citizens For Appropriate Rural Roads has been trying to stop I-69 for years, arguing it's an environmental nightmare with minimal benefits.
He contends rising construction costs mean the cash will run out about 30 miles sooner, near Washington. "We think what they're going to do is try to start the project for political reasons. It will never be finished," Tokarski insists.
Browning says the important thing is the road is finally getting started. "It is not a road to nowhere. Look at the interstate system in the United States. It was all done in sections," Browning says. "I don't even understand the argument."
A major variable is the federal highway formula. Current funds will run out in two years, and states are just guessing what a new formula will provide.
Daniels says the federal government will have to step up, but says the toll road lease means Indiana doesn't have to wait.
"In 49 states, they're panicked about how to pay for this year, and you're asking me how to pay for year 9, 10 and 11," Daniels says. "It's a very different problem."
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