With the release of the Record of Decision for I-69, efforts to stop it will intensify. Citizens' lives, properties and businesses along the proposed corridor are devalued by the threat of I-69 while scarce transportation dollars go to biased studies to prop up this boondoggle. Governor Kernan's choice of the 3C alternative makes only his political supporters happy.
This corrupt process of contrived studies, misinformation, and politics must not be allowed to succeed. I-69 has little to do with transportation needs, but everything to do with campaign contributions.
I-69 is not about job creation. Interstates cover Indiana like a spider web, yet the state has lost manufacturing jobs at an unparalleled rate.
A major goal of I-69, according to INDOT, is to support NAFTA, in spite of the fact that there are already two-Canada-to-Mexico interstates passing through Indiana. The third one, I-69, would be longer than the other two. NAFTA highways have not saved Indiana's economy. Another one will be further waste of our tax dollars.
Governor Kernan states that I-69 will cost under $2 billion and INDOT Commissioner Brian Nicol says it is easily affordable. Their estimates are seriously flawed. All construction costs for I-69 are not included in their estimates. The $600 million cost of getting around Evansville must be included. Improvements to handle increased traffic on I-465 could add as much as another billion. The costs of major transportation projects are always seriously underestimated. A more realistic estimate for I-69 is $3 billion.
I-69 boosters state that the cost will be split between the Federal government and the state. This is misleading. There is no pot of special money that the Federal government is waiting to send to Indiana for I-69. Highway boosters have been trying for over 13 years to get a glacier-sized chunk of money for I-69 and so far all they've gotten are ice-cube-sized bits.
The money to build this highway will come mainly from Indiana's regular share of the federal gas tax. If that money is spent on I-69, many other projects will not be built or will be seriously delayed. I-69 boosters have also proposed increasing the gas tax to help fund I-69. If Indiana wants I-69, Indiana will pay for it.
Concern over the impending round of military base closings has become the latest excuse to promote the new terrain I-69. This is a scare tactic. During the last rounds of base closings, Crane emerged unscathed while other bases in Indiana and surrounding states, all on interstates, were closed. Politics play a huge role in determining which bases will be closed, not proximity to interstates. In fact, as past base closings have made clear, too much development near bases is a good way to get them shut down.
Also, in these tragic times of terrorist threats, it is unwise to run a major Canada-to-Mexico highway past Crane's front door. Crane's relative isolation may be what keeps it open.
The studies used to justify building I-69 are biased and misleading. Unfortunately, INDOT's studies are not about selecting the most responsible route but rather about selecting the route supported by political contributions. The route was chosen and then studies were concocted to justify that selection.
Citizens across Indiana have spoken out in unprecedented numbers to oppose this wasteful, destructive project, but they have been ignored. INDOT's tactic is to give citizens opportunities for public comment but to ignore any data that does not support the "preferred" route. This is a corruption of the democratic process.
Environmental protection is crucially important. Worldwide pollution, global climate change, and unprecedented loss of habitat demand that we defend what remains of our forests and wetlands. Agricultural lands must also be conserved. Destroying a productive, environmentally sensitive area of the state for another highway is unacceptable. Beautiful, productive Southwest Indiana should be cherished and nurtured, not exploited for political and personal profit.
I-69 is not the answer to our economic problems; it is part of the problem. There are better alternatives. Some cost less and can be done more quickly, such as fixing the roads we have. Others will take more planning and time so we should start now. If we throw off the shackles of I-69, we can begin to plan for the future of transportation in Indiana instead of wallowing in the past.
Thomas Tokarski is president of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads.