The lives of thousands of Hoosiers, survival of hundreds of farms and small businesses, and the future quality of life for all of us hang in the balance in the election of the next Governor of Indiana.
Governor Kernan and his challenger from the Republican Party, Mitch Daniels, are pushing for an interstate that will tear through the farms, homes, forests, and wetlands of Southwest Indiana. The prosperity of healthy rural, small town communities and natural tranquility that abounds there will be destroyed. We strongly believe this superhighway will hurt all of Indiana by absorbing transportation funds that are much more needed to build and maintain roads, bridges, rails and inner city transit systems throughout the state and will needlessly destroy a dwindling natural heritage that all Hoosiers need.
Here are the facts from state documents:
- This extension of Interstate 69 will consume 7,000 acres of farms, forests and wetlands and lead to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of more acres to meet its supporters' objective of filling open spaces in Southwest Indiana with new commercial, industrial and residential development.
- This road will not increase the average personal net income of residents in Southwest Indiana over the long run. Every cost benefit analysis that has been done says that the costs for the road will exceed its benefits.
- This road will cost at least $2.5 billion, almost three times what it would cost to upgrade US 41/I-70 for the interstate. Without major new taxes at the fuel pump, at this price tag, which many believe is substantially understated, this road will consume the Indiana Department of Transportation's entire road building budget for the next 14 years, leaving nothing for other road projects and local communities without monies for badly needed improvements in their roads, bridges and transit systems.
- Building this road will save only 10-14 minutes for drivers between Evansville and Indianapolis over the far less expensive alternative of upgrading US 41/I-70.
Perhaps most important is that 94 % of opinions voiced on the Environmental Impact Statement for this road, were against any new terrain I-69, some 20,467 out of the 21,873 comments submitted. In addition, 140,000 petition signatures were submitted against this highway and testimony ran more than 5-1 against it in public hearings.
Yet despite these facts and this grossly lopsided comment, Governor O'Bannon declared late last year, barely after the comment period for the highway had finished, that he was moving full speed ahead with the new terrain interstate. Governor Kernan has since reiterated this pledge.
The only fact that seems to matter is that the strongest backers of the new terrain I-69, highway-consulting firms like Evansville-based Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates, who prepared the environmental impact statement, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the O'Bannon/Kernan campaign coffers.
For a democracy to survive, the people's views on something of this magnitude must matter. Governors who summarily dismiss the vast majority of public opinion on a project that will consume at least 2.5 billion tax dollars, OUR MONEY, should be held accountable for such arrogance. Challengers to an incumbent governor should also care about public sentiment.
If you agree that public comments matter and that peoples' homes and land should not be taken away from them for a highway that the facts don't justify, please tell Governor Joe Kernan and Mitch Daniels so! Let them know that you will not support either of them until they change their position on I-69 from appeasing greed to serving need.
Jeff Stant is chairperson of the Marion County Green Party.