CHICAGO – Indiana will spend $70 million to expand lanes on a well-traveled stretch of Interstate 65 under a plan announced by Gov. Mike Pence.

Interstate 65 in northwest Indiana will be widened to three lanes in each direction from Merrillville south to State Road 2 near Lowell as part of the ongoing Major Moves 2020 highway program. A stretch of the highway had been shut down for months due to a faulty bridge in Lake County.

"Today's announcement to expand Interstate 65 is another positive step in our efforts to ensure that our transportation infrastructure can support the economic and employment growth our state has seen over the last decade," Pence, a Republican, said in announcing the plan Dec. 8. "Hoosiers can rest assured that my administration will continue to prioritize our roads and bridges in a responsible and aggressive manner."

Funds will come from the capital program which was increased in the most recently adopted biennial budget. On December 17, the Indiana Department of Transportation will seek state budget committee approval to use the funds and publish an initial request for contractor and designer qualifications.

"Job creation and economic growth depend on our state's willingness to invest in key infrastructure improvements," INDOT Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson said in the statement.

The Indiana Democratic Party said the expansion plan was already in the works and does little to move the discussion over transportation funding issues forward.

"Gov. Mike Pence is doing literally anything possible to make it look like he's concerned about Indiana's crumbling infrastructure. Gov. Pence's recent 'plan' provides the bare minimum needed for Indiana to keep its D+ grade while also ignoring 90% of the state's roads," the party said in a statement.

The governor has been on the defensive over spending on infrastructure, saying the state has allocated an additional $1.26 billion for transportation since he took office in 2013. Critics contend it falls far short of what's needed.

In October, Pence proposed a $1 billion road funding program and bridge repair program that relies on state reserves and borrowing. Democrats countered that it's a drop in the bucket based on the state's needs.

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