Infrastructure

Boosting Broadband Included in Holcomb’s Sweeping Infrastructure Plan

In addition to interstate and trail projects, the Indiana governor called for investment in the state’s fiber-optic expansion efforts.

by Brooke McAfee, The Evening News and The Tribune / September 10, 2018

(TNS) — JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Gov. Eric Holcomb says he plans to work with Southern Indiana communities to complete infrastructure projects, such as increased broadband services and expanded trail systems.

In a statewide tour, Holcomb presented his Next Level Connections infrastructure plan Friday at Kye's in Jeffersonville. The program includes a $1 billion investment for projects throughout the state, which would be funded by a dramatic increase in toll fees for heavy vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road in the northern part of the state.

The largest portion of the funding would go toward road construction, with $600 million earmarked for accelerating the Interstate 69 construction by three years.

The completion date of the final section of the I-69 project from Martinsville to Indianapolis will be moved to 2024, instead of 2027. The funding also includes an additional $190 million for improvements on U.S. 20 and U.S. 30 and new interchanges on U.S. 31.

BROADBAND ACCESS

Of the funding, $100 million will go toward providing high-speed fiber optic broadband services in unserved and underserved rural areas. The state will offer grants to service providers in these communities.

Holcomb said the broadband expansion will have a major effect in communities throughout Indiana.

"There are rural areas in all 92 counties," he said. "When you think about the growing areas of Jeffersonville and Charlestown, right outside your door there are rural areas. This is going to affect not just Clark County and Floyd County, but every single county in the state of Indiana."

State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, said he believes Clark and Floyd counties will benefit from expanded broadband access.

"This will certainly help with spots of Clark and Floyd County that don’t have Internet access." he said. "Those holes in our in connectivity could be addressed."

Holcomb cited a recent Purdue University analysis highlighting the economic benefits of increased broadband access. The study found that Indiana could gain about $12 billion in economic benefits over a 20-year period if broadband access is expanded in rural areas.

EXPANDED TRAILS

Another $90 million will be used to add more hiking, biking and riding trails throughout the state. The funding will include a grant program for local and regional trails.

"The state of Indiana will partner with our local rural and urban areas to see, how can we connect your plans with ours," Holcomb said.

The plan emphasizes connecting counties, cities and towns across Indiana through trails and contributing to quality-of-life initiatives. Holcomb said the state has an ambitious goal to provide trails within five miles of all residents by 2020.

"We’re seeing trails organically, in a kind of hodgepodge manner, grow and develop all over Southern Indiana, and we want to make sure we’re doing all we can to connect those dots and connect those lines," he said.

Some funds will go toward development of the Department of Natural Resource's priority trail projects, which have not been identified yet.

Grooms said the funding could potentially increase the number of hiking and biking trails in a variety of areas in Clark and Floyd counties, including Charlestown State Park, Silver Creek, Floyds Knobs and the Falls of the Ohio.

Mayor Mike Moore said he hopes Jeffersonville will receive funding to expand its trail system, and he plans to work closely with Holcomb to move forward with projects.

In 2012, Moore presented the city with an idea to create a 23-mile trail looping around Jeffersonville. He hopes the Next Level Connections program will bring this plan into fruition.

He said the state funds could also potentially fund eastward expansion of an ongoing sidewalk project along Utica Pike and three miles of trails in the planned Chapel Lake Park.

"I’m going to be vying for every dollar I can of that 90 million," Moore said. "I’m going to make sure that’s a possibility."

STAYING CONNECTED

In order to fund the infrastructure plan, the state is negotiating an amended contract with the Toll Road Concession Company. The Indiana Finance Authority is expected to approve the contract by Sept. 20.

With the new contract, drivers of class 3 vehicles and higher, including heavy-duty pick-up trucks, will see a 35 percent increase in toll rates on the Indiana Toll Road. The 156-mile highway runs from the Ohio border west to Chicago.

Passenger vehicles will not be affected by the hike in toll rates.

The $1 billion payment will occur over a three-year period, with $400 million expected in early October, $300 million in 2019 and $300 million in 2020.

Moore said he appreciates Holcomb's emphasis on infrastructure improvements.

"We’re seeing it firsthand, people want quality of life, they want infrastructure improvements and they want to be able to do it at an affordable price," Moore said. "All of this being done with no tax increases is an incredible thing. I can’t think of any other state that can announce what we just heard."

Holcomb said these investments will keep Indiana residents connected, whether it is through Internet access or hiking trails.

"The Next Level Connections program is all about how we as people connect with one another, whether it is as individuals or communities, how we connect with the outdoors, how we connect with world markets and global destinations like we never have before," he said.

©2018 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.