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Fairer distribution urged of Toll Road cash

State Sen. Lonnie Randolph is asking some reasonable questions about how the Indiana Department of Transportation makes decisions about bridge and road repairs throughout the state.

Randolph, a Democrat representing East Chicago, wants to know why Indiana seems more than willing to collect tax money throughout the state to pay for expensive projects in Indianapolis but wouldn't pay to replace the Cline Avenue Bridge in his city. In 2011, INDOT decided to have a private company rebuild the bridge and turn it into a toll bridge.

The bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal carried 35,000 vehicles a day and served as a key connection to Chicago and a major economic development driver. It was closed in 2009 and demolished in January.

The estimated cost to replace the Cline Avenue Bridge was $150 million, and federal funds would have covered most of it. The state's share would have been $30 million. Randolph described the decision as Indianapolis-centered elitism.

"We should not have to have them think twice about rebuilding Cline Avenue, because all the tax dollars that they collect here go down to Indianapolis to help grow and build Indianapolis," Randolph told the Times of Northwest Indiana.

He also pointed out that many of his constituents are already paying higher tolls because of Gov. Mitch Daniels' 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, but they are not enjoying a fair portion of the benefits from the lease.

Indiana has spent $7.1 billion on road construction over the past five years with most of the money coming from the Toll Road lease. But the distribution has not been as generous to the communities near the Toll Road. For example, the state spent $700 million on the 67-mile stretch of Interstate 69 from Evansville to Crane Naval Base and $423 million to for Interstate 465 in Indianapolis. It spent $187 million on the Borman Expressway, an east-west interstate in northwest Indiana.