I've written about this before, and it's time to write again. As predicted, the state (as in Indiana) has decided to petulantly go forward with officially punishing Bloomington and Monroe County for being anything but grease on the I-69 skids.
But first, a quick redux. There exists something called a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. There exists also something called the Indiana Department of Transportation, or INDOT. And there exist local, state and federal governments.
Some time ago, the federal government decided that it wasn't going to give out money to the states, for road projects, unless it could be assured that it would be money well spent. Toward that goal the feds wanted to make sure that the money was needed, that it was wanted, and that it would be spent efficiently and effectively.
The feds realized that a state has many stakeholders. The state government, under the administrative control of the state's governor, as well as numerous smaller political subdivisions such as counties, cities and towns, each under the administrative control of their respective commissioners, councils, and mayors.
The feds didn't want to hand a state a chunk of money to be spent on a road if the state couldn't agree with its lesser political subdivisions as to where the road should be built, how it should be built, or even if it should be built at all. The feds wanted to make sure that, if they handed over the money, everything would be copacetic.
To that end, they created these things called Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs, again) that would function as shapers and repositories of local road sentiments -- mainly in the form of long-rage "Transportation Improvement Plans," or TIPs. That would make it easy for the feds to confirm that everyone was on the same page. If the feds wanted to hand out money for a project, all they had to do was match their own plans for that money with the state's plans and with the plans of all the MPOs along the route.
So long as all the plans agreed, everything was groovy. If any of the plans didn't agree, on the other hand, time to stop, wait and listen. And hold onto the money until things were sorted out.
Along came a spider
INDOT, financed by the trucking and road-building lobbies, has long wanted to build yet another Interstate in Indiana, despite the fact that Indiana already leads the nation in amount of land covered by highways of all types. We are, literally, varicose with highways. Nonetheless, highway building is intensely politically charged, it's a fountain of campaign dollars, there's money to be made in consulting, there's money to be made letting contracts, there's money to be made everywhere.
It's a hurricane of money. Which is why we're so batshit crazy to do it, even when it's not a good idea, at all.
Only one little problem with INDOT's plan. First, there isn't actually any money to build the highway. Second, there's a gigantic pain in the ass down south that goes by the name of Bloomington. Okay, two problems.
Bloomington's City Council has, in the past, passed resolutions opposing the I-69 boondoggle. Its mayor and several of its city councilpersons campaigned on platforms specifically in opposition to I-69, as did several of the county government's elected officials.
And elected officials they are, swept in with margins that cannot be called anything short of a mandate. In other words, the attitudes and opinions of Bloomington and Monroe County's elected officials can safely be said to reflect the attitudes and opinions of their respective electorates.
In short, Monroe County doesn't want anything to do with the damn thing. We, and Bloomington, consistently rank at the top of all economic performance lists, all business climate friendliness lists, lists of cultural and social amenities (especially when compared to the rest of the state), and we'd like to keep it that way.
Our way or the highway. I mean, our way and the highway.
INDOT officials figured out a way to pull a political stunt, a way they thought would get our MPO to include I-69 in its long-range plan and thus to get the community's tacit endorsement of the boondoggle. As I said, it was a pretty ham-fisted and transparent stunt involving the "hardship" buyout of a single property at the intersection of Tapp road and State Road 37 on the basis that the owner was having trouble selling the property because of buyer's fears of being in the I-69 right of way (see attached picture).
"The attitudes and opinions of Bloomington and Monroe County's elected officials can safely be said to reflect the attitudes and opinions of their respective electorates."
The MPO would have none of it, and then the City of Bloomington stepped in with a brilliant plan to simply take it off the table: the city, not INDOT, bought the property. No more hardship, no more need for INDOT to buy the property, no more need to include it as an I-69 related item in our TIP.
INDOT officials were furious, they threatened to withhold funds from the community. And, just last week, they made good on their threat.
So now they're punishing every taxpayer, every resident, everyone in Monroe County who would benefit from other road improvements. Doesn't matter if you voted for Jill Long Thompson or Mitch McDaniels.
Doesn't matter if you voted for Barak Obama or John McCain. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Green. Mitch Daniels and his band of highway robbers are going to stick it to you because you don't appreciate having an eight-lane-wide NAFTA superhighway rammed through your home.
That's the attitude, folks.
Gregory Travis can be reached at email@example.com.