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Pence: Indiana to expand I-65 with new road funds

– Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday announced plans to use $200 million in newly released funds to expand sections of Interstate 65, and a transportation department spokesman said project could reduced travel time for some commuters in the Indianapolis area.

“If you’re going to be the Crossroads of America,” said Pence, citing Indiana’s nickname, “You have to have the roads to back it up.”

Money for construction was locked away in a special savings fund until the governor signed legislation last week for its release. The construction planned with the money, as well as an additional $200 million that’s being held pending review, could create as many as 9,800 jobs in the state if used in one year, said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield.

Lawmakers originally meant to put away $200 million each year for 20 years to pay for future large construction projects.

Pence requested to use the first two years of savings immediately despite Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley’s concerns about spending the money too soon.

“What we’ve seen is that the construction cost was outpacing the interest revenue,” Wingfield said. “We should spend this money now...before the purchase power gets eroded.”

The second half of the $400 million in highway funding approved by legislators will be held pending a review of the state’s finances in December.

INDOT aims for expansion between State Road 44 near Franklin and Southport Road Indianapolis with the existing money. Additional lanes also are planned between State Roads 38 and 26 near Lafayette.

Bidding on the two interstate sections is scheduled for this fall, although construction might not start until next spring, Wingfield said.

Commuters, particularly those from the South side of Indianapolis, could see both a shorter drive to work and more consistency in how long it takes to drive back and forth, Wingfield said.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said the expansion could help relieve dangerous chokepoints and called the legislation an “important jobs bill.”

In addition to thousands of jobs from building the lanes, Pence said better roads could help Indiana’s economy.

“When I say `roads mean jobs,’ I don’t just mean the thousands of Hoosiers that will undoubtedly be put to meaningful employment using their professional skills to create effective highways in the state of Indiana,” Pence said. “Having the right infrastructure in Indiana is absolutely essential to our people achieving our full potential and prosperity.”