June 2006 was a watershed month in Bloomington's struggle to stop new-terrain I-69 from destroying our community character forever. But in many ways, very little new actually happened. It was business usual, just on a more ominous scale.
Bolstered by laws written and interpreted by corrupt men and women, Gov. Mitch Daniels, his eyes on a privatized I-69 extension, crushed citizen opposition to his scheme to begin selling Indiana's highway system to global economic interests.
Since the citizens couldn't raise $1.8 billion in 10 days, the Indiana Supreme Court said on June 20, they had no right to legally challenge Daniels' privatization plans.
Bought-and-sold leaders steamrolling citizens is business as usual in Indiana.
Macquarie-Cintra, a Spanish-Australian consortium, then wrote the governor a $3.8 billion check to "lease" the Indiana Toll Road in northern Indiana. In return, Daniels' will allow the company to profit off Hoosier motorists who drive the now-privatized highway for the next 75 years.
The state, for all practical purposes, will not receive another dime from the Indiana Toll Road, except from motorists in the form of gasoline taxes.
That's public-private partnership business as usual — public pays, private profits, politician gets campaign contribution (legal kickback).
On July 1, Indiana Toll Road drivers began paying a toll tax to a private company that amounts to dollars-per-gallon for the privilege of driving on highways built with their gasoline taxes. At a toll of 10-cents-per-mile, the owner of a 20-miles-per-gallon vehicle will pay $2 per gallon of gas to drive 20 miles, while still paying gasoline taxes at the pump.
That's business as usual, taxation through misrepresentation.
Daniels will earmark a sizeable portion of the check, $700 million, to start construction on I-69 from Evansville to Indianapolis, which he also wants to charge tolls on. At month's end, the governor sent representatives from major campaign contributors, funded with Hoosier taxpayer dollars, to Bloomington and other locations around the state.
In one elected local official's words, they lied and mislead the public on I-69, yet again.
This time they lied about the toll-road angle on I-69. With straight faces, Daniels emissaries looked 75 or so citizens in the eyes at the AMVETS building and told them their comments and opinions about it mattered. Then they turned off the microphones so the citizens couldn't respond.
Things got ugly, and Michael Grovak, from the Evansville consulting firm of Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates (BLA), had the mic turned back on, and an hour-and-a-half discussion then ensued.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request for Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) records, The Bloomington Alternative has documented that, between 1999 and 2001, BLA received at least $15.9 million in I-69 work. During that time, the company and its principals gave $175,078 in campaign contributions to state politicians — $130,000 to Democrats and $45,000 to Republicans.
That's business as usual in Indiana. Politics here are corrupt to the core.
Also, in a preliminary report titled "Tolling Deals Fatal Blow to I-69," citizens, once again, exposed government policy — Daniels' re-evaluation report for tolling on new-terrain I-69 — as a fraud being perpetrated upon Hoosier citizens and the state's lapdog, corporate media.
"The re-evaluation report on Tier 1 of the I-69 extension that INDOT released this week reveals serious fiscal and transportation problems with making I-69 a toll road," said the report prepared by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Hoosier Environmental Council. "... In fact, in some cases local communities would actually have worse traffic problems if a tolled I-69 is built."
The citizens report, based on an analysis by ELPC lawyers, found:
- Up to nearly 50 percent more crashes compared to not tolling the road;
- More fatalities compared to not tolling the road;
- Tolling the road at the same prices as the Indiana Toll Road actually will lead to more truck travel time than not building the highway;
- No Cost-Benefit Analysis was done for tolling; and
- Total employment, annual disposable income, employment in high-growth industries are reduced 30 percent to 40 percent.
"Tolling didn't make sense 10 years ago, and it doesn't make sense now," said ELPC staff attorney Shannon Fisk. "Tolling diverts traffic to side roads and will increase congestion problems while squandering the state's transportation future."
As I-69 goes, there was nothing new about elected government officials using cash supplied by wealthy, powerful political supporters to lie to and mislead the public. That's business as usual in Indiana, whether the politician in question has a D or an R before his name.
What was new in June, however, was a growing awareness of the scope and depth of the global corporate interests' designs on the American landscape and economy.
The lead story in the June 12 edition of Human Events Online proclaimed: "Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway."
The 62-year-old publication that bills itself as "The National Conservative Weekly" and features Ann Coulter and Robert Novak reported:
"Quietly but systematically, the Bush Administration is advancing the plan to build a huge NAFTA Super Highway, four football-fields-wide, through the heart of the U.S. along Interstate 35, from the Mexican border at Laredo, Tex., to the Canadian border north of Duluth, Minn.
"Once complete, the new road will allow containers from the Far East to enter the United States through the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, bypassing the Longshoreman's Union in the process. The Mexican trucks, without the involvement of the Teamsters Union, will drive on what will be the nation's most modern highway straight into the heart of America. The Mexican trucks will cross border in FAST lanes, checked only electronically by the new "SENTRI" system.
"The first customs stop will be a Mexican customs office in Kansas City, their new Smart Port complex, a facility being built for Mexico at a cost of $3 million to the U.S. taxpayers in Kansas City."
NAFTA refers to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, and breaks down trade barriers — mostly by weakening environmental and labor protections — between Mexico, the United States and Canada.
John Smith from CountUS! notes that while I-69 is not part of this NAFTA Super Highway, it remains part of the picture. There isn't one NAFTA highway in the works. It's a network.
"Please be aware that there are several of these NAFTA projects," he wrote in an e-mail. "... Ours was Corridor 18."
ELPC attorney John Moore noted that the I-69 extension plan predated Corridor 18 and the NAFTA Highway concept.
"NAFTA was all the rage in the late 80s and 90s when ISTEA was passed," he said, referring to the 1991 highway bill that designated Corridor 18. "So Corridor 18 became the NAFTA Highway to justify it, even though we know that there are already many highway connections among the three countries."
Moore said that federal highway studies say most Interstate traffic begins and ends within shorter distances.
"It's worth noting that since we already have a robust interstate system," he said, "any new major highway will primarily shift economic development from one area of the country or a state to another area, rather than creating new economic development."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.