This latest incarnation of an Evansville-to-Indiana interstate highway began during the 1988 gubernatorial race between Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican John Mutz. During a campaign appearance in Evansville, both candidates committed to a new-terrain highway between that city and Indianapolis.
Upon being elected, Bayh commissioned the "Southwest Indiana Highway Feasibility Study," also called the Donohoe Study after one of the consultants hired to create it. Issued in 1990, the study concluded: "Based on the results of the benefit to cost evaluation, construction is not recommended."
In July 1990, the Federal Highway Administration reported to Congress: "Based on [an] analysis of direct highway benefits and the likely indirect benefits of economic development, the proposed highway is at best marginal from a cost effectiveness standpoint."
Rather than accept the Donohoe Study recommendations, the Bayh administration - with support from Democratic Congressman Frank McCloskey - forged ahead and hired the Evansville-based consultant Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates to engineer the project and prepare an environmental impact statement for it.
At that time, then-Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who oversaw the Indiana Department of Commerce, contributed $20,000 of taxpayer money annually to the Mid-Continent Highway Coalition, a group of vested highway interests pushing I-69 as a NAFTA highway between Mexico and Canada.
After receiving between $2 million and $3 million in state contracts, Bernardin Lochmueller produced a draft Environmental Impact Statement in 1996 that focused only on a segment of highway from Evansville to Bloomington. The Federal Highway Administration naturally rejected as inadequate an EIS on an Indianapolis-to-Evansville highway that only went to Bloomington.
The newly elected Gov. O'Bannon then rehired Bernardin Lochmueller to redo the EIS to include the entire route to Indianapolis. Altogether, they earmarked another $9.1 million in taxpayer money for the EIS that was released to the public on July 31.
That document found the route that follows U.S.41 to I-70 at Terre Haute, the alternative overwhelmingly preferred by citizens in Bloomington and Terre Haute, would be the least expensive and least environmentally disruptive but rejected it in favor of new-terrain routes through Monroe County. It says new-terrain routes would be anywhere from $150 million to $800 million more expensive than 41-70.
Throughout this entire process, the Democratic Bayh and O'Bannon administrations solicited public input, which they swore would receive careful consideration in their deliberations. Here is a smattering of the input citizens have provided them since 1996 with respect to a new-terrain route to Indianapolis via Bloomington.
- Letters and postcards submitted to INDOT on the 1996 draft EIS ran 4-1 against.
- Petition signatures submitted to INDOT on the 1996 draft EIS ran 70,000 to 15,000 against.
- Comments at an April 1999 Bloomington City Council hearing on a resolution opposed to a new-terrain I-69 ran 49-4 against.
- Amish residents in Daviess County submitted a petition with 692 signatures to Gov. O'Bannon asking him not to divide their community with a new-terrain highway.
- A scientific poll conducted in Evansville by 41-70 proponents in January 2000 found 35 percent favored 41-70 and 31 percent favored the new-terrain route.
- Comments at public hearings on the latest draft EIS last week in Bloomington, Terre Haute and Evansville ran 4-1 against. The Evansville Courier & Press reported that 18 of the first 20 speakers in Bloomington, selected at random by INDOT, opposed the new-terrain route.
An analysis by the Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest found more than $130,000 in campaign contributions from Bernardin Lochmueller to the state Democratic Party, O'Bannon, Kernan, and Fernandez between February 1999 and April 2002.
The Democratic Party received $55,830, O'Bannon $43,365, Kernan $30,200, and Fernandez $2,250.