BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — State highway officials are trying to sort out the
impact of a Monroe County panel’s decision not to include part of the
contentious Indianapolis-to-Evansville Interstate 69 extension in its local
highway plan — a move that may jeopardize federal funding for part of the
Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said the
decision from the policy committee of the Bloomington/Monroe County
Metropolitan Planning Organization is “highly unusual.” He said
transportation officials haven’t determined what the committee’s exclusion
of a section of the I-69 project in Monroe County will mean for the $3
In particular, Wingfield said it’s unclear if the state can use federal
funding without the local Metropolitan Planning Organization’s backing for
that portion of the highway, a $400 million, 27-mile stretch that would run
from the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center to Bloomington.
“We don’t have a whole lot of precedent here to say what is and what isn’t
possible,” Wingfield told The Indianapolis Star.
INDOT plans to take about three weeks to review the local planning
organization or MPO’s transportation plan and then decide how to proceed.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has made the 142-mile extension of I-69 one of his
cornerstone projects. National advocates say it could lead to the opening of
trade routes from Mexico to Canada, while local supporters believe it will
spur development and create access to the southwest corner of the state.
But the project has long drawn bitter criticism for its cost and
environmental impact, particularly in Monroe and Greene counties.
In last Friday’s vote, the Bloomington/Monroe County MPO cited environmental
and fiscal concerns in its decision to exclude I-69 from its plan. Officials
with the planning organization say they want more information before signing
off on the project.
The state needs to provide data on financing, said Bloomington Planning
Director and MPO representative Tom Micuda. He said the group also wants
data on the highway’s impact on air and water quality.
“While there is a long-standing history of opposition to the I-69 extension
in the Bloomington community, there also is an understanding that if more
issues get defined on Interstate 69, then INDOT can come back to the MPO for
consideration,” he said.
Wingfield said the Department of Transportation already has provided
information and has been working with the MPO for months.
Tom Tokarski, president of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, has opposed
the I-69 project for more than 20 years and intends to keep on working
against the highway.
“It’s environmentally, fiscally and socially irresponsible,” he said. “It’s
hugely expensive, and I don’t think they have enough money.”
Supporters of the highway, including Steve Schaefer of Hoosier Voices for
I-69, want the state to push forward anyway.
“For Bloomington to continue to play games and try to halt the process on
this project is unfortunate, when you have smaller communities across
southwest Indiana that have been begging for this project for decades,”
Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the I-69
extension is one of the most important projects in the state’s history. He
called the local MPO’s decision “very unfortunate and shortsighted.”
“This is one of the most significant economic development projects in our
lifetime, perhaps the biggest in the public sector,” Brinegar said.
The state chamber is among a long list of groups and politicians who support
the project, including the Southwest Indiana, Greater Bloomington and
Indianapolis chambers of commerce and mayors in Evansville, Loogootee,
Petersburg and Washington.
Last May, Daniels ramped up the timetable for the I-69 extension to take
advantage of cheaper costs in the down economy.
At the time, he said the portion from Evansville to Bloomington would be
finished by the end of 2014. A two-mile section at Evansville already is
open, and construction has begun on 65 miles from there to Crane, with
completion expected by the end of 2012.
Work on the stretch from Crane to Bloomington is still set to begin late
this year and to finish in 2014, but the local MPO’s actions now put that in
question. The Bloomington-to-Indianapolis stretch doesn’t yet have a
timeline or funding.