Out for a Drive

Matt Tully, reporting for the Indianapolis Star, has an interesting editorial today about the State’s only toll road that Gov. Daniels so vehemently leased “to the foreigners”. For those of you not in the know, Daniels used the money from the leasing of the toll road to fund a ten-year mega-phase for Indiana’s stalled and lackluster infrastructure funding. Dubbed “Major Moves”, construction cones have popped up all over the state — disproportinately so in the Indianapolis Metro area and along the I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville via Bloomington.

For years I’ve only seen the benefits of the leasing. The billions pushed into state coffers have offered nothing but pluses for me as a metro-area driver. Northern folk would bemoan the opposite — citing that the money from “their toll road” is being used elsewhere (particularly Indianapolis).

For two years now, Democrats have opined that we’re selling off the state. Frankly, it’s too soon to know if the seemingly excessive 75 year lease will be worth it or not. Either way, letters have allegedly poured into the state’s inbox from pissed motorists arguing poor road conditions, gas gouging and poorly operated toll booths with untrained workers have inundated this once seemingly asphalt-paved paradise.

Tully decided to do something no other reporter has done: he actually drove on the damn thing. Tully’s column today starts:

More than two years have passed since Gov. Mitch Daniels persuaded the General Assembly to let him lease the Indiana Toll Road to a private company and use roughly $3.8 billion in proceeds to finance road projects around the state.

If you listen closely, you can still hear echoes of the screams of anger from back in 2006. And though the screaming has quieted, time hasn’t dulled the debate over what was arguably Daniels’ most divisive policy decision. In recent weeks, the controversy saw new life after reports in Northern Indiana newspapers about letters of complaint that frustrated Toll Road drivers had sent to the state.

Advertisement

The reports sparked such a debate about the state of the Toll Road — from road conditions to the quality of toll plaza bathrooms — that I decided to head north on a recent day to check out Indiana’s most controversial stretch of pavement. Starting just after 8:30 on a Monday morning, I entered the Toll Road a few miles west of the Ohio border. From there, I spent several hours driving the 157-mile road to Chicago, making a dozen or so stops along the way to check out toll plazas and toll booths, and to talk to people in cities the Toll Road cuts through.

This column probably would be more interesting if I’d found anything to complain about: A traffic jam. A pothole to rival those that marked Indy’s streets this spring. An obvious sign of mismanagement.

Anything.

After all, the complaint letters had conjured images of long lines at toll booths, roach-infested bathrooms, rude toll collectors, $10-a-gallon gas and massive potholes. But I found none of that. Instead, I found a road that was easy to drive, free of problems and freshly paved in many spots.

We can debate the decision to lease the road. In time we’ll know for sure whether Indiana came out ahead on a deal that featured a 75-year lease and a one-time payment. Moreover, a one-day drive provides only a snapshot. On a summer afternoon in 2007, I fumed while sitting through a poorly run toll booth in Hammond; a year earlier, I drove the Toll Road on a snowy day and found it unplowed.

But on one Monday, at least, life on the Indiana Toll Road was fine, and certainly not anywhere near as bad as critics are portraying it. Here are portions of the Toll Road diary I kept as I cruised across Northern Indiana: MORE

Even from the Republican-friendly, Gannett Corporation-owned Indy Star, I can believe Tully’s story. Daniels has strongly supported his plan saying it was the “right thing to do for taxpayers.” I don’t have, nor have I ever, had any numbers in front of me on projected income vs. expenses, but if the money we have now is worth more than the 75 year lease could have produced, it woudl have been irresponsible and idiotic NOT to have sold the road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.