INDOT Commissioner Brian Nicol and Governor Joe Kernan are scrambling to overcome the recent surge in the longstanding opposition to their chosen route for I-69. Not even they can deny that their proposed route is the most controversial highway project ever undertaken in Indiana. But, miffed by the opposition's refusal to go away when told to, they are trying to discount it.
During the EIS hearings for I-69, INDOT pronounced the supreme importance of public input. But when that input proved to be overwhelming against their preferred route, the public was dismissed as unreliable. When the public didn't give INDOT the answer it wanted, the public was wrong.
To counter citizen opposition, they came up with the odd notion that an elected official speaks for all of his/her constituents when it comes to their position on I-69, but only when the official supports the chosen route. For example, in a recent interview in the South Bend Tribune Commissioner Nicol stated: "What one has to understand is, there are large numbers of people who commented favorably who represent hundreds of thousands of people. The mayor of Evansville, who represents 150,000 people, is in support of this. All the senators and representatives that weighed in, they represent tens of thousands of people."
This patently absurd statement ignores all other indications of public opinion. For example, several polls in Evansville have shown, at best, lukewarm support for using INDOT's preferred, new terrain route for I-69. When then Mayor Fernandez spoke in favor of putting I-69 through Bloomington he was, according to INDOT, speaking for all of Bloomington, in spite of the fact that the City Council had passed a Declaration against INDOT's plan.
Now that the Bloomington City Council has passed, overwhelmingly, a Resolution opposing putting I-69 through Bloomington and the Mayor has promised to sign it, Commissioner Nicol is notably silent.
When one of the earlier alternatives for I-69 bisected Senator Lugar's farm, the senator sent INDOT a strongly worded letter telling them essentially, and in no uncertain terms, get it out of here! In short order INDOT declared that alternative unacceptable. Senator Lugar subsequently wrote to a constituent to describe the financial implications of I-69's cost to Indiana:
"All Hoosiers may wish to discuss the priority of such expenditures and the probability of potential public and private economic gains at a time of extraordinary national security, health care, social security and education needs in Indiana and throughout the country."
Does Senator Lugar's statement show support for, or opposition to, I-69? It seems to say it is up to the people to decide, something INDOT does not want to do.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Larry Borst has raised serious questions concerning funding prospects for I-69: "The fact that the federal government OK'd the project doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean it's going to be built ... there is no federal categorical funding for such projects... ... INDOT could probably qualify much of its existing federal road funding for I-69. ... That would only draw federal funds away from other projects."
Was the senator voicing doubts for all of Indiana? Not according to Commissioner Nicol. Only when a politician speaks positively of the highway is he speaking for all of his constituents.
INDOT's preferred route for I-69 was chosen 14 years ago. All of the intervening studies and public hearings have been a sham. All the studies were contrived to justify a predetermined route. The hearings were nothing more than INDOT PR presentations supporting that chosen route. The entire process has amounted to a blatant denial of the democratic process.
When I began working on the I-69 project 14 years ago my opposition was based mainly on environmental concerns. Since then I have realized the damaging social and fiscal impacts the highway would have on citizens. Now I have become deeply concerned by the corrupt, undemocratic process by which the route was chosen and is being justified.
Money-backed politics is the driving force behind the proposed I-69 project. It has virtually nothing to do with sound transportation planning for the future. I-69 is one of Indiana's more obvious examples of the government's alienation from the people it is supposed to serve and its distain for democratic principles; however, his is not a problem unique to I-69 or to Indiana. This is a national concern related to many areas of public policy.
Governor Kernan and his Commissioner of Transportation, Brian Nicol, need to be reminded that democracy only works when the people and policy makers have accurate and unbiased information on which to base their decisions. It only works when the there is a mutual understanding that the will of the people will be respected. When public input is taken merely to fulfill a requirement, when decisions are made in private between special interests and government officials and then the public is asked to comment with no expectations that they will be able to change that decision, democracy becomes a hollow shell.
This is a fundamental problem with I-69 and one of the chief reasons it must be stopped and the corrupt process exposed. It is also a disgraceful waste of time, tax dollars and public trust when citizens are denied the right to decide their future.
Thomas Tokarski is president of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads. He can be reached at