Save The Date: INDOT Hacks Caught, Confused By Own Web Of Spin

Indotcolorlogo Hamilton County officials are still pretty peeved that INDOT officials lied to them a couple years ago.

What could be more entertaining than watching a state agency step all over itself to cover up a major gaffe? Survey says: watching said state agency try to throw its former leader under the bus only to have said former leader hijack the bus, turn it around and head straight back toward his assailants.

"INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the project was always set to begin in 2016. He said former Commissioner Thomas Sharp was wrong when he said in a July 2006 speech to the Fishers Chamber of Commerce that 2014 was the start date.

"'He misspoke,' Wingfield said this week. 'He was talking about I-69 work in Marion County, a separate project which will begin in 2012.'

"Sharp disagrees, saying he was talking about the Hamilton County portion of the work. 'That's what I was talking about,' he said last week.

"Adding to the confusion is a discussion Fishers officials said they had with INDOT representatives last fall, when they were told the lanes wouldn't be added until 2021.

"'I thought someone got things backward,' said Fishers Town Manager Gary Huff. 'I thought they meant 2012.'

"Huff added, 'Even when we thought it would be 2014, we resolved to try to get INDOT to move it up to 2012 or 2010.'

"Hamilton County Highway Director Bradley Davis said INDOT showed him long-range plans that estimated the lane additions would start in 2025.

"But Wingfield said that, too, was a mistake. 'It was a tracking error that's been corrected,' he said."

Not to sound the panic alarm, but these confused people are building our roads.

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!

Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here? INDOT Finally Ready To Listen To Vendors

Indot_8As Indiana Department of Transporation Commissioner Tom "Oooooh, Shiny" Sharp prepares to leave his post next month, vendors are receiving a new message from the largely stagnant agency: We're finally ready to listen to and work with you.

After a series of meetings with professional engineering firms and contractors, Sharp sent a letter to vendors late last month acknowledging INDOT's shortcomings, taking full responsibility for them and promising change. A Daniels appointee asking for and responding to input from the outside? Say it ain't so.

In one excerpt, Sharp writes, "...I now recognize our procedures changed very quickly and with little explanation. In many cases we became introspective and didn't ask for your ideas. We should have created an environment that encouraged and sought participation. I take responsibility for the hectic atmosphere and promise to improve our approach."

Of course, it's easy to take responsibility on your way out the door, but at least this is a start. For almost two years, folks who work with INDOT have been grumbling about the way they've been treated. With any luck, this signals a new day for the agency, which desperately needed a swift kick in the booty after months and months of inaction.

If you'd like to read the letter in its entirety, have at it: Download indotletter.pdf

Another One Bites The Dust: INDOT Commissioner Leaving On December 1

Indot_7As Gonso allegedly goes, so goes Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp, who's done a whole lot of nothing these past two years. Just ask the folks who have to work with or for him at INDOT. Maybe, just maybe, the Guv will be able to recruit some top weenie-roast talent for his second string.

UPDATE: The Guv has tapped another corporate-insider-turned-state-agency-head to take Sharp's place. Shocking that he wouldn't bother to find someone who knows the industry.

Here's Sharp's resignation note:

Dear Teammates: I want you to be the first to know that I will be resigning on December 1. The past two years have been exciting and very special to me and my wife, Kay. This was my first opportunity to see how government operates up-close and personal and I’ve always been extremely impressed with the dedication and can-do attitude of the INDOT team.

Just look at what you have accomplished in two short years. At the top of the list has to be Major Moves. We are the only state DOT in the country that has a funded, 10-year highway construction plan!

INDOT was totally reorganized to deliver this historic program. You took on new roles, assumed additional responsibilities and implemented ideas to make the department run more efficiently and effectively. It reminds me of a duck that looks graceful while moving across the water, while underneath the surface there’s a lot of paddling going on that no one sees. There was plenty of work and details behind the scene that I didn’t see, but your ownership and commitment to making INDOT the best it could be is noticed by our citizens and is greatly appreciated. I continually receive letters and emails from legislators, mayors, citizens and visitors showcasing the positive and proactive efforts you make every day.

While taking care of our customers, we are also watching out for each other. Employee accidents were reduced to record lows for a second straight year. The emphasis on safety is making it possible for everyone to return home to each night safe and sound.

In meetings with our peer DOTs, it was common for people to start off a conversation with “How does INDOT…” We are no longer “the worst state agency.” We are trendsetters and your good works are getting attention in Indiana , across the country, and around the world.

Finally, thank you for all you have done during my tenure as commissioner. It has been a pleasure to serve with you. I’m very proud of our accomplishments and hope you will continue to strive for the best in your TOP DOT journey.

Kind Regards,

Tom Sharp
Your Commissioner

Speaking Of Martinsville: Is The Guv Avoiding Meeting With Locals On I-69?

I69_3The Martinsville Reporter-Times revisits the issue of the Guv not wanting to come down and meet with folks there who are upset about the Interstate 69 route that's going to cut through their community.

This has been going on for months now, and it looks like the administration may be trying to pass off a recent fleeting visit between the Guv and the Mayor of Martinsville as the meeting that was requested. You'd think that after almost two years in office, these guys would have figured out that sometimes you just need to ride out and meet folks halfway:

"Was a brief meeting that Martinsville Mayor Shannon Buskirk had with Gov. Mitch Daniels what city officials wanted or a just a casual chat?

"At the direction of the Martinsville Common Council in July, Buskirk sent a letter to Daniels asking the governor to come to Martinsville to discuss the planned path of Interstate 69 through Martinsville. The planned route through Morgan County follows the path of Ind. 37.

"Councilman David Barger suggested sending the letter to Daniels. A state official had told Buskirk, the mayor said, that there was little chance of an alternate route 'unless something earth-shattering happened.'

"The idea to contact the governor, Barger said, was based on the theory that 'if you are dissatisfied with the answer one person gives you, you go to that person's boss.'

"Jane Jankowski, Gov. Daniels' press secretary, said in August the governor received the letter, but hadn’t made a decision on it.

"Last week, Buskirk said the requested meeting with the governor has yet to take place, Jankowski , however, said Daniels had met with city officials.

"'The mayor and several others from Martinsville were invited to the governor’s office about a month ago,' Jankowski said. 'They met with the governor and other staff in his office.

"'There was a good exchange of dialogue about I-69 and the input provided will be very valuable as planning continues.'

"That's not exactly what happened or what city officials wanted, Buskirk and Barger said."

South Shore Truth: Yes, Tom Sharp Did Ask Railroad Exec To Look Into Lease

Forsale1_1 The board that governs the entity that oversees the beloved South Shore Line in Northern Indiana finally got the chance to publicly ask whether Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom "Ow, That Pointy Stick In My Eye Is Really" Sharp ever asked about privatizing the railroad. In a nutshell, yes, it appears that he did.

Which makes the Guv's repeated denial that the request took place even more bizarre. Dude, just admit your guy asked about selling off another state asset. You were met with a wall of criticism and probably backed away from the idea because it looked like Toll Road Fury Redux right before an election. It's the lying, Guv. They don't like the lying.

From the Times of Northwest Indiana:

"South Shore Line officials say there is no doubt that the governor's transportation chief asked the South Bend-to-Chicago commuter railroad to look into privatization options.

"But federal restrictions and financial concerns make a lease or sale improbable, if not impossible, board members of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District said during a special meeting Friday.

"The meeting was called after the state Department of Transportation and Gov. Mitch Daniels denied Times reports earlier this month that state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp asked NICTD General Manger Gerald Hanas to explore privatization possibilities.

"'It takes away any doubt that the conversation happened,' Dennis Burke, a NICTD conductor appointed to the board by Daniels, said after the meeting. 'It gives employees and riders a peace of mind.'

"Hanas told the NICTD board that Sharp said the railroad, 'should explore any kind of P3 (public-private partnership) available to us.'"

South Shore Line: Board Calls Special Meeting To Discuss Guv's Intentions

Southshoreline_1If the Guv thought his rumored attempt to privatize the beloved South Shore Line had been swept under the rug, he should think again. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports today that the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which oversees the South Shore, has called an emergency meeting this week to discuss conflicting reports about the privatization plan.

"'It's an issue of giving the right information to the commuters and an issue regarding the credibility of NICTD,' said David Niezgodski, the South Bend Democrat who called the meeting. Niezgodski chairs the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the four-county entity that owns and operates the railroad.

"In interviews earlier this month, NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas told The Times that state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp asked him to look into revenue-generating privatization options similar to the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

"An Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman denied such a discussion took place, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels dismissed The Times report as a "bad rumor."

"But NICTD board members say that Hanas also informed them of a privatization talk with Sharp when the board met Sept. 29

"'Why would he create a controversy for the South Shore,' said Niezgodski, a former St. Joseph County commissioner running for the state Legislature. 'I feel that Mr. Hanas cares deeply about the South Shore.'

"Board members will be able to discuss the issue with Hanas on Friday. And, Niezgodski said, the minutes from last month's meeting will be approved so that they can be made public.

"Sharp has not commented publicly on the issue, though The Times has made several requests to interview the commissioner. A pair of INDOT spokesmen did not return phone calls Monday.

"'We have not heard any response whatsoever from the state,' Niezgodski said.

"Lake County Commissioner Fran DuPey, a NICTD board member, expressed confidence in Hanas.

"'We'll get into this conversation (Friday). We'll see for sure, but right now I have no doubts that what Gerry Hanas said was correct,' said DuPey, a Democrat. 'I think you can take anything he tells you to the bank.'"

It Tolls For Some Of Thee: Guv Shoots Down Changes To I-69 Plan

Indotcolorlogo_2 The Guv calls a Democratic plan to allow tolling between Indy and Martinsville along the new I-69 extension a "political stunt."

You mean kinda like exempting tolling along that stretch of road, which happens to run through Republican-controlled districts, in order to secure votes for your unpopular lease of the Indiana Toll Road?

Okeeeee, then. Just wanted to make sure we're on the same page.

Is it really so awful to say that if we're going to toll the road, we're going to toll the people who travel on it fairly?

And since when does the Guv pass up a plan to make money-money-money? Oh, right. When the plan would hurt lawmakers whose arms he might be able to twist again.

All Spin, All The Time: Guv Trying Hard To Get Away From South Shore Story

SouthshorelineThe Guv reportedly lost his cool in Northern Indiana yesterday when folks started asking about the state's plans to privatize the South Shore line. He's now calling it a "bad rumor" and spinning like crazy to make it sound like this was never in the works. TDW has been hearing otherwise. From the Times of Northwest Indiana:

"Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday dismissed as a 'bad rumor' a Times report that his transportation chief asked the South Shore Line to explore privatization options similar to the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

"Democrats, meanwhile, pressed the Indiana Department of Transportation and Commissioner Tom Sharp for more information. Twice this week, the top executive for the South Bend-to-Chicago commuter railroad told The Times that Sharp had requested he look into revenue-generating privatization possibilities.

"'I never heard a word about this from anybody anywhere until your question (Wednesday),' Daniels told The Times at an unrelated Indianapolis news conference. 'It's a complete nonstarter. But there has been so much bogus and false information around the whole subject of transportation that I'm no longer surprised when another bad rumor gets loose.'

"Daniels' comments allude to the partisan rancor surrounding his push to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a private consortium. The 75-year deal brought a financial windfall that Daniels plans to put toward an ambitious 10-year road construction plan.

"The governor's office said Wednesday that it has 'zero interest' in exploring anything similar for the South Shore. But Gerald Hanas, general manager for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, has made remarks to the contrary, saying Commissioner Sharp asked him to look into privatization when the two met on other matters about a month ago.

"State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, called on Sharp to clarify the situation.

"'If the governor has no interest in selling off Indiana's only commuter railroad, then who prompted Mr. Hanas to explore such a transaction?' Pelath said Thursday in a letter to the commissioner."

When Flacks Attack: J-Jan Flips Her Lid Over South Shore Privatization Story

HeadinsandFor those keeping score at home, it's Day Two of a really bad story for the Daniels administration, and they're doing what they always do when they get caught: Deny, deny, deny.

The next step? Attack, attack, attack.

The Times of Northwest Indiana follows the story it broke yesterday about orders from Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp, who's currently hiding under his desk, to explore privatizing the South Shore Line in Northern Indiana. It's worth a read, if only as a reference guide for how not to handle bad news. What will Day Three bring?

"There are no plans to sell or lease the South Shore Line, Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration said Wednesday in a written statement.

"The statement followed a report in The Times indicating the Republican governor's administration was considering privatization of the commuter line, similar to a recent 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, an option the top executive of the railroad's ownership group twice has said was suggested by the state transportation commissioner.

"'The governor has zero interest in selling or leasing out the South Shore, and has no ability to do so if he did. State government does not even own the South Shore,' Daniels Press Secretary Jane Jankowski said in a written statement, one that also criticized The Times' report on the issue.

"But comments from the top executive of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which owns and operates the South Bend-to-Chicago commuter railroad, seems to contradict the administration's stance. Gerald Hanas, the district's general manager, said he was asked to explore cash-generating privatization options about a month ago when he met with state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp.

"'He said, 'Look, we've gained some significant revenue under the P3 (public-private partnership) thing with the Toll Road. Is there any way you guys could look at options for P3 for the railroad? Is there anything that you could lease or sell or anything that would make any sense to leverage capital?'' Hanas said Wednesday, reiterating earlier remarks. 'We said we'd research it.'

"On Tuesday, the state Department of Transportation denied such a conversation took place. A spokesman for INDOT, which recently created an office to oversee privatization projects, did not return messages Wednesday."

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