The Lost Decade: INDOT Can't Figure Out What To Do And When

Indotcolorlogo More trouble in paradise, courtesy of the bumbling idiots at the Indiana Department of Transportation:

"The Fishers Town Council is complaining about what some local officials see as gridlock in the Indiana Department of Transportation.

"Council members are peeved that plans to redesign intersections and add lanes along I-69 in Hamilton County aren't scheduled to begin for about 10 years.

"The council has drafted a resolution urging Gov. Mitch Daniels to speed up the roadwork on the congested highway. Council members said they were led to believe that major work would begin on the corridor in Hamilton County around 2012 or 2013.

"INDOT officials say they never gave a firm guarantee of when major revamping would begin.

"The resolution says that 'a significant delay is essentially an abandonment of the responsibility to maintain and improve" I-69 and calls for it to be "completed no later than the year 2012.'

"In summer 2006, former INDOT Commissioner Thomas Sharp told the Fishers Chamber of Commerce that major upgrades on I-69 would begin in 2014. During a meeting with town staffers last fall, INDOT officials said the work would start in 2021, said town spokeswoman Sarah Rittman.

"'At first they thought someone misspoke or there was a typo in the minutes (of the meeting),' Rittman said, 'but when they checked back with INDOT, the new date was, in fact, 2021.'"

D'oh!

Hands Off The Cookie Jar: No Cash For You (Well, Not This Time)

Construction What's this? Can it be? The Guv's actually putting his foot down on a transportation funding request from his pals in Hamilton County?

"Hamilton County Commissioner Steve Dillinger expressed disappointment this week that the state did not plan to widen I-69 north of 96th Street any time in the near future.

"'Fishers, Noblesville and the county have been working with the state for several years to try to get some relief on that corridor,' said Dillinger said. 'My personal belief is that (the area) is the lifeline for the Fishers, Noblesville and northern counties.'"

If you're feeling a twinge of sorrow, take a trip down memory lane and recall that our suburban friends already have received plenty of love from the Guv while other counties have watched their projects get bumped to the back of the line.

Of course, if you read the above-linked story to its end, you'll notice this blurb:

"Commissioner Christine Altman, who along with commissioner Steve Holt also attended the luncheon, said her top priority is to get commuter relief by way of mass transit into the county.

"Building and maintaining a mass transportation system would not come cheap, she cautioned.

"'What it's gonna take is money. These things are not inexpensive,' Altman said. 'It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. We need to change the concept of commuting.'"

She's right, but we've already been told that the Guv's not interested in mass transit because he can't make any money from it.

Major Moves Money: Guv Awards $30 Million Road Project To Ohio Co.

OrangeconeMaybe the Guv should get extra credit for outsourcing this contract to a company in Oregon and Ohio:

"Work should begin soon on added travel lanes to U.S. 231 in Spencer County after an Oregon, Ohio company was awarded a nearly $30 million contract for the project.

"The E.S. Wagner Company will handle turning U.S. 231 into a four-lane roadway from County Road 1250 North to Indiana 162. It was awarded a contract this week after bidding $29.7 million for the work.

"The project is part of Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves statewide highway improvement program. According to a press release issued by the Indiana Department of Transportation, the work is important because U.S. 231 corridor is becoming a main area artery between Kentucky and I-64."

Be Prepared: State Falls Short On Yet Another Big Major Moves Project

OrangeconeHat tip to Masson's Blog for posting this story from the Lafayette Journal and Courier:

"The state now says it needs millions of dollars from local governments to build a new U.S. 231 that will go around West Lafayette.

"Sallie Fahey, executive director of the Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission, said Wednesday that new estimates show the cost of building the bypass to be $98 million.

"The state has $75 million to spend on it.

"Local governments in Tippecanoe County are trying to find a way to eliminate the $23 million deficit.

"'We are working with Purdue University, West Lafayette and the county to see what can be done to make the road cost economically feasible,' said Debbie Calder, spokeswoman with the Indiana Department of Transportation."

But how could this have happened, you ask?

"Calder said the design of the first section of the bypass is 95 percent complete, and that of the second section -- from Indiana 26 to U.S. 52 -- is 75 percent complete.

"The delay in building the road is largely a result of the state's underestimating how much it will cost to have utilities near the Purdue Airport moved out of the way of the proposed bypass, she said."

You know, Guv, there's a way to avoid winding up in these predicaments time and again: Don't overpromise in the first place.

Over the past three years, because he can't figure out how to actually sell his ideas the old-fashioned way (public input, listening to dissent, compromising, working across the aisle, etc.), His Mitchiness has adopted a predictable pattern of getting his way. It involves negotiating a bunch of stuff behind closed doors, popping his head out and screaming, "Look at the shiny! Look at the shiny! Can you believe how much shiny we're getting for this thing?!?!"

Well, sir, there isn't enough shiny to go around. Now what do we do?

The Road You Didn't Take: Guv's Big Promises Fade Into Grim Realities

Construction This doesn't sound like the streets-paved-with-gold trend that the Guv's Major Moves program was supposed to usher into local communities across our state after we sold off the Toll Road:

"Next year could be the start of a bumpy ride for local drivers.

"Delaware County is considering surrendering its asphalt repaving program in 2008 in favor of chip-and-seal resurfacing to compensate for diminishing allowances from state coffers.

"'Next year will probably be the lowest amount of money in Delaware County (for road projects) in many years,' Delaware County Engineer Michael Denton said. 'Maybe 20 to 30 years.'

"The shortfall stings even worse, perhaps, because it comes on the heels of two years of significant local street and road improvements in Delaware County and across the state thanks to the leasing of Indiana's toll road.

"To earn political favor for the lease, an Gov. Mitch Daniels initiative known as Major Moves, supporters agreed to redirect a combined $150 million to every municipality and county across Indiana. That money, half of which will be distributed next month, paid for road improvements.

"Delaware, Blackford, Henry, Jay and Randolph counties -- including all cities and towns in those counties -- will have received a combined $6.9 million in Major Moves money by the end of 2007.

"Whereas previously the Delaware County Highway Department paved about 20 miles of rural road per year, it will pave a combined 75 miles of road in 2006 and 2007, Denton said.

"Next year, unfortunately, that toll road money is gone.

"'The Major Moves money was nice, but it was a little shot in the arm basically,' said Dan Watson, Jay County's highway engineer.

"To make matters worse, the baseline amount of money that the state distributes to local governments for road improvements is also shrinking."

Some of you may recall that Muncie and Delaware County found out earlier this year that the Guv was holding up and calling off projects they thought were already in the pipeline.

Need To Know: Property Owners Want More Info On Hoosier Heartland

IndotWhat's this? The Indiana Department of Transportation being less-than-open about planning and project and taking people's land?

"Some property owners are concerned about how much of their land will be used to expand a highway from Lafayette to Fort Wayne.

"About 150 people attended a meeting with Indiana Department of Transportation officials yesterday, and they wanted to know why they haven't received more information about the highway plan.

"The Hoosier Heartland Highway extension will take about four years, with construction expected to start in 2010. The east-west, four-lane road will eventually replace State Road 25 and U.S. 24 as the main route between Lafayette and Fort Wayne.

"Residents at the meeting looked at maps of the route and were trying to learn more about how INDOT handles compensation for the homeowners.

"INDOT spokesman Andy Dietrick says the agency will contact property owners 12 to 18 months before construction begins in their area. Commissioner Karl Browning says the state may start making offers for land by late this year or early next year."

Money On The Move: Indiana Toll Road Proceeds Going Every Which Way

In_toll_rdThe Times of Northwest Indiana has more on the migration of Major Moves money away from its Northern roots. There's also some interesting stuff in the story about our after-the-fact commitment to pay the commuter discount, the prevailing wage and how much cash we actually have to spend on roads:

"Elected officials wanted to know about current issues with the Toll Road and its private operator.

"'If you're not paying prevailing wage on the Toll Road ... what good is it to local communities?' asked LaPorte County Council member Jerry Cooley.

"ITR Concession is currently in discussions with labor unions about the prevailing wage issue, Browning said. However, he noted the Toll Road's operator does not fall under the same regulations as the state when it comes to wages.

"'Our agreement with the Toll Road doesn't let us say, 'This is what you must do,'' Browning said.

"Highland Town Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin wanted to know how long the state will continue to pay for the commuter discount on the Indiana Toll Road given to those using electronic tolling.

"Browning said that could go on for up to 10 years, and technically those payments to ITR Concession Co. are made by the Indiana Finance Authority. State officials have estimated it could cost $250 million, which will come out of lease proceeds.

"The commissioner also clarified that although the Cintra-Macquarie consortium paid $3.8 billion for the 75-year lease, only about $2.6 billion went to Major Moves because of set-asides like that for the toll discount."

Spin Cycle: Major Moves Cash Can't Go Elsewhere (Unless The Guv Says So)

OrangeconeNo offense to Ice Miller transportation lobbyist Dennis Faulkenberg, who is quite capable and smart, but this part of his letter to the editor in today's Star made TDW scratch her head:

"Finally, The Star's question about 'why mass transit isn't on the list of alternatives that could be funded through the $3.8 billion Major Moves plan' is most vexing. The Major Moves money is committed to the 400 projects the General Assembly considered necessary when Major Moves was passed into law last year. The public should not be fooled into thinking that the Major Moves money can be directed to other unmet needs such as mass transit, nor should our elected officials be tempted to break their promises they made when they passed the Major Moves legislation."

Um, you mean unmet needs like the six new roundabouts in Carmel to which the Guv recently directed $50 million in Major Moves money despite the fact that other Major Moves projects across the state have been postponed or called off?

Incidentally, Ice Miller, Inside INdiana Business and Butler University teamed up and released a survey today of more than 200 Indiana business leaders. Among other things, the survey asked CEOs to talk about Indiana's economic climate and things we could do to improve it. From the executive summary: "They would like to see the state focus more on health care and mass transit."

If you have a chance, you can read the whole thing here.

Human Resources: After Cancer, Toll Road Worker Let Go, Can't Get Answers

Macquarie1_2Another day, another cheery, uplifting human interest story brought to you by the new owners of the Indiana Toll Road:

"Linda Lopez takes her steps slowly through the living room and eases herself into her favorite chair. 'I can't walk very well,' the 60-year-old Portage resident says, almost apologetically. Chemotherapy has caused neuropathy in her feet and legs, making walking and standing difficult.

"A Portage Toll Plaza attendant for the Indiana Toll Road for two years, Lopez had a mammogram Jan. 18. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy Feb. 12.

"She had filed a Family Medical Leave Act application Feb. 1, the same day foreign-owned Indiana Toll Road Concessions Co. took over the Indiana Toll Road. The private Spanish/ Australian firm leased the road for 75 years for $3.8 billion as part of Gov. Mitch Daniels' 10-year transportation plan.

"Lopez says her doctors expected she'd be off work for up to three months.

"But her cancer was so aggressive that after her surgery, they told her she'd likely not return until next year.

"She underwent chemotherapy, which ended last month and will soon start radiation therapy.

But Lopez received a letter from ITR Concession Co. on July 20 telling her she had five days to return to work or she'd lose her job because she had not worked for ITRCC for 90 days prior to her surgery.

"'I couldn't have waited any longer to have surgery because the lump was growing,' Lopez said.

"Lopez said she tried to contact her human resources director after receiving the letter to let him know that she was still under doctor's care and had not yet started radiation therapy.

"'He never returned my calls,' Lopez said.

"'I lost all my benefits,' she said. 'I didn't qualify because I had not worked for them for 90 days.'

"Lopez was allowed 12 weeks off as part of the Family Medical Leave Act, but was still under a doctor's care after those benefits ended.

"'I had just finished my chemotherapy and they sent me a letter telling me I had to return to work by July 25th or they would terminate my job,' Lopez said. 'I couldn't go back yet. I couldn't stand, and you have to stand from 8 to 16 hours at the toll booth. They have stools, but they tell you not to use them.'"

Flexing His Muscle: Soliday May Sue INDOT Over One-Sided Illiana Study

Gavel Republican State Rep. Ed Soliday is seriously pissed off at the Indiana Department of Transportation, so much so that he's considering filing a lawsuit against the agency because they refuse to consider any funding mechanism other than privatization for the Illiana Expressway:

"The Indiana Department of Transportation offered few details Friday about an pending Illiana Expressway study that has come under fire from state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

"And Soliday says he is willing to take the agency to court. He argues INDOT is violating state law by pursuing a feasibility study of the proposed highway that would examine only one financing option -- the private tollway model championed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"INDOT was scheduled to choose Friday between three firms vying to perform the study of the Illiana Expressway, which would connect Interstate 57 in Illinois with Interstate 65 in Lake County. But it's not clear whether a decision was made -- INDOT did not return repeated phone calls.

"Daniels addressed the issue Friday before departing the Statehouse for a motorcycle tour of southern Indiana, saying he doesn't believe INDOT intended to violate the Illiana study legislation -- Senate Bill 105 -- he signed into law in May..

"'They may have misconstrued it,' the governor said of INDOT. "I did see (Soliday's) letter yesterday and I told them: 'Take a real quick look and let's find out.' If it needs to be broadened, it should.'"

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