With all the media attention focused on I-69, few people know that INDOT is quietly planning another NAFTA highway through rural southern Indiana, just a few miles to the east of the proposed new terrain I-69 route. No doubt a major reason for the silence is that INDOT is doing it in segments.
A stretch of US 231 between the new Natcher Bridge near Rockport and I-64 in Dale is under construction now. The DEIS for the Dubois County segment of US 231 was released in March. This section of four-lane highway would bypass both Jasper and Huntingburg either to the east or to the west to end at Haysville, a small town of about 500 people.
In order to partially justify the need for this section of the highway, the DEIS for the Dubois County bypass segment identified US 231 as "intercontinental" and as a "national truck highway," while at the same time maintaining that this is a local project. However, it is clear that building a bypass around the small prosperous towns of Jasper and Huntingburg is unwarranted — projected traffic numbers from design year 2030 were used to establish need to relieve congestion.
That this bypass would sacrifice some of the best wetlands and farmlands in the state is a testament to the depravity of the highway planners.
Although US 231 was one of the rejected alternatives for I-69, the fact that INDOT is planning this route as a second intercontinental north/south four-lane highway isn't being discussed in Indiana. One has to read the Owensboro newspaper to learn that INDOT is planning to improve US 231 to link up with proposed I-69 at Crane to create this second NAFTA highway.
In Kentucky, US 231 links up with I-65 via the Natcher Parkway, and there is also a link to the Kentucky section of I-69, already identified on the latest official Kentucky transportation map. These highways are already in place.
As if two north/south highways aren't enough, INDOT is constructing still another. The rerouting of SR 37 is in progress. A bypass is being constructed from the Ohio River Bridge at Cannelton, around Tell City, where it cuts an ugly gash through the steep hillsides to connect the Ohio River bridge to SR 37. A new portion of SR 37, from St Croix (at I-64) to hook up with SR 145 near the Eckerty Y, will be a partially elevated, limited access highway through some of the most forested parts of the state. It will pass near Hemlock Cliffs and Yellow Birch ravine, and will open the Hoosier National Forest purchase area to development.
While it is not billed as a national truck highway, one of the outrageous reasons given in the EIS for this new-terrain portion literally in the middle of nowhere was to better facilitate semi truck traffic. That and for recreational vehicles headed to Patoka Lake. Providing access to a gambling casino was not mentioned, even though this project moves SR 37 to utilize what is now a portion of SR 145 and so pass through French Lick. A bypass around Paoli is part of the SR 37 project as well.
If built, all of these highways would take countless acres of forest and farmland and would open an entire region of forests, farms and small towns to development. These highways are destroying people's homes and their livelihoods. They are destroying a way of life and a culture.
In the late 1980's the Donohue study looked at the feasibility of building just one highway from southern Indiana to Indianapolis. The study found that none of the proposed highways would be cost effective. INDOT was not to be deterred. Instead of picking one of the ill-conceived routes, they are proceeding with all three of them.
What is going on here? Is this greed? Is it ignorance of rural people and rural transportation needs? Is it a question of too many highway engineers who need to justify their existence? In a giant power grab, is INDOT attempting to set land use policy for the entire southern half of the state?
With all of these three major highways there has been no honest assessment of cost/benefit. Mostly there has been no assessment at all. The Environmental Impact Studies done on these projects were biased and woefully inadequate.
The taxpayers of Indiana are being asked to pay for highways that will destroy their lives. They are paying for highways that threaten a good portion of what is left of the most forested and rural part of the state, with no promise of any genuine benefit or any established need for the greater good. In addition, these new construction projects are already taking scarce dollars away from genuine transportation projects around the state.
It's not just I-69 that must be stopped. It's INDOT's relentless assault on rural southern Indiana that needs to be exposed and halted.
Jeanne Melchior is President of Protect Our Woods