RICH JAMES: INDOT's Browning a familiar road to nowhere

2013-07-14T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: INDOT's Browning a familiar road to nowhereBy Rich James nwitimes.com
July 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Unless he has had an epiphany – which is a rather rare occurrence for a Republican – Karl Browning doesn’t seem to be the right guy for the job.

In case you don’t know the name, Browning was commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation from 2006 to 2009 under former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

But he abruptly resigned when things got a little too hot in the kitchen.

Well, he’s back.

Gov. Mike Pence named Browning last week to retake control of INDOT.

If you live in Northwest Indiana and care about the region’s transportation future, you ought to be losing sleep.

Here’s why.

Browning bailed out of the INDOT job in 2009 after a confrontation with House Democrats, who were in the majority at the time.

At issue was the use of federal stimulus funds for local road projects. Browning would have no part of it

Browning was either playing politics or he didn’t think there was anything wrong with Hoosier roads.

That’s not surprising since most of those who live in Indianapolis don’t think there’s anything wrong with Indiana roads. That’s largely because the road system in and around Indy is better than the rest of the state combined.

Daniels at the time didn’t have a problem looking a gift horse in the mouth. Nope, the governor swept up what Browning didn’t want and used the stimulus money to shore up a number of state agencies.

Browning created a bigger controversy the first time around.

Browning was a vocal opponent of the state being a major player in mass transportation expansion, including the extension of the South Shore through Munster and Dyer to Lowell as well as a second new line to Valparaiso.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, is chairing a summer legislative study committee that will look at South Shore expansion.

In 2007, Soliday ripped Browning, saying, “We need to have a more forward-looking view. Lots of other states are more forward looking than we are.” Amen, brother.

Speaking of epiphanies, has Soldiay had one?

In reference to Browning, Soliday last week said, “INDOT will maintain its prestigious reputation by continuing to build the economy through sound infrastructure.”

I don’t think Soliday suddenly has become a fan of Browning. Soliday is smart enough to know that he doesn’t want to anger the guy who can funnel millions in transportation dollars to NWI.

In terms of the state playing a role in South Shore expansion, don’t hold your breath.

Browning would seem to be as much of an isolationist as Pence.

Yeah, Pence, the guy who would rather brag about the state having $2 billion in the bank than talk about pouring the money back into Indiana -- like, say, South Shore expansion.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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