Photograph by Steven Higgs
HEC''s Tim Maloney, shown here in 2005, says opponents of Interstate 69 are not giving up the struggle to stop the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle. At a panel discussion April 27, he said the state's largest environmental organization is challenging multiple permits the state needs to build the highway between Evansville and Bloomington.
You've heard it before: "I-69 is not a done deal." A panel of five activists presented ample evidence bolstering that statement at Green Drinks at the Upland Brewery banquet hall on April 27.
Chris Doran, from the I-69 Accountability Project, moderated. The panel was made up of Jody Madeira, whom Doran introduced as a "pissed-off" homeowner and IU law professor; Christine Glaser, an environmental economist; Tim Maloney, from the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC); Tom Tokarski, from Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR); and Sam Allison, Monroe County council member.
Madeira led the presentation. She and her family bought a house in the Rolling Glen area three years ago. At the suggestion of their realtor, they contacted the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) before they purchased the property to find out whether I-69 would be constructed anywhere near them. INDOT said the route would be a mile away.
"INDOT has blundered, and public outrage is at an all-time high. It's a new day." - Sam Allison, Monroe County Council
Later INDOT changed its plans and decided the highway would go through Madeira's neighborhood. The agency also said it had forgotten about two houses the highway would run through. INDOT's behavior made Madeira question INDOT's capacity for planning a new highway.
The property in Madira's neighborhood has lost 25 percent of its value, and Madeira worries about the pollution her children will be exposed to if the highway is constructed. Furthermore, INDOT told her earlier that they would buy out the affected homeowners, but they didn't do so.
Madeira assured the audience that she would continue to fight the highway with CARR and the I-69 Accountability Project.
Glaser followed with a rundown on the financial implications of the highway. INDOT, she said, has consistently underestimated the cost of the project. The cost of the highway is going to be greater than $3 billion.
INDOT has $700 million from the northern toll road and some federal and state gas taxes to pay for the project.
"It's fiscally irresponsible for the state to spend billions on this new interstate while local needs are not met." - Christine Glaser, environmental economist
Because INDOT has neglected maintenance and repairs of Indiana's roads and bridges for many years, Glaser said, there is a backlog of work to be done. In 2001 the bill for the backlog was estimated at $2 billion; in 2009 the bill was estimated at $5.38 billion. The cost of the backlog rose by over $3 billion in that eight-year period -- roughly what the state wants to spend on I-69.
Opponents of the highway, according to Glaser, think "it's fiscally irresponsible for the state to spend billions on this new interstate while local needs are not met." And both the state and federal government revenues for road improvements have been decreasing, thanks in part to the popularity of energy-efficient cars. In fact, Glaser said, the "transportation revenues are probably shrinking" as the cost of local road maintenance and repairs is "increasing sharply."
Congress is planning on "drastically cutting" federal appropriations for highway projects in the states. "Absent new funding sources," Glaser said, "the completion of a new highway might be in limbo."
If INDOT applies traditional federal and state gas revenues to construction of the highway, by the year 2013 I-69 "might easily eat up 20 percent or more of the federal and state funds available to INDOT. The percentage could be higher If INDOT's revenue projections are too low, which they probably are," she said.
If INDOT does use traditional gas revenues to build I-69, "the situation for cities and counties would only be worse" because they rely to some degree on state revenues. And "the backlog will increase further."
Gov. Mitch Daniels might look into more toll roads to raise additional transportation funds. In fact, a bill being considered by the state legislature permits the governor to change highways to toll roads without legislative approval.
Toll roads "aren't particularly popular," Glaser said, and states have rejected them because "they tend to increase traffic on local roads." She went on to say, "No matter what the governor plans to scrape up the money, it's going to cost cities, counties and drivers across the state."
Glaser concluded by saying that the organizations opposing I-69 are "reaching out to cities and counties across the state and making them aware of what I-69 costs them." She stressed that those organizations need help from the public.
Maloney began by saying that farther south in the state, "opposition continues in the form of farmers and landowners who are very concerned about the effects [of I-69] on their lands."
I-69 is far from being a done deal, he said. INDOT has not received federal and state permits pertaining to the U.S. Clean Water Act and Indiana Clean Water Act for section 4, from Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center to Bloomington. What's more, HEC has legal action pending against the Army Corps of Engineers for section 4, the organization expects to challenge the permits for section 3, from Washington to Crane, and "anticipates challenging" the section 2 permit the Army Corps issued.
"The state is trying to cut costs and save money, however they can because there's not money to complete I-69." - Tim Maloney, Hoosier Environmental Council
HEC is challenging "the granddaddy of [I-69] projects" farther south, at the crossing of the east fork of the White River. The flood plain there, Maloney said, is two miles wide.
"To save money, INDOT is planning to build a very small bridge over the river and put the rest of the road in that two-mile flood plain on a 25-foot-high causeway," he said That will act as a dam and "raise the flood plain level about a foot upstream of the crossing on 6,000 acres of flood plain."
INDOT never talks about that project, Maloney said, because it's an "unadvertised impact of I-69." The crossing is covered by an Army Corps permit.
"The state is trying to cut costs and save money, however they can because there's not money to complete [I-69]," according to Maloney.
Maloney urged the audience "to stay tuned for a lot more information and news about these legal cases."
Last, he said, legal action "is in the works" with regard to the Endangered Species Act and the Indiana bat.
As to more toll roads, Bloomington state representative Matt Pierce has introduced legislation that would prevent any part of I-69 from becoming a toll road.
Tom Tokarski has worked for over 20 years to stop I-69. He said, "I-69 is a whole lot more than just another highway. The reason I-69 has gotten this far is that the process has gotten corrupted and broken. To stop I-69 you have to change the process. I-69 is a result of a failed system that promotes bad projects. ... It's politically driven."
INDOT has paid consultants, Tokarsi said, "tens of millions of dollars" to produce huge fiscal feasibility and environmental studies that are "without merit" and "aren't worth the paper and CDs they're printed on."
"The reason I-69 has gotten this far is that the process has gotten corrupted and broken." - Tom Tokarski, Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
"Regulating agencies don't regulate," he said, out of fear of retaliation. Individual employees are threatened with loss of their jobs "if they speak out and word spreads," and "the silence is deafening." INDOT threatens local officials with loss of funding for other road projects if they don't approve I-69.
It's extortion, he claims.
Tokarski continued, "The police retaliate against legitimate citizen protests. Local control is weakened and eventually disappears, central control expands, and special interests drive the project on."
"Our so-called independent media watch it all happen without so much as a whimper." -- In fact, they are complicit. They print INDOT's and the governor's press releases without asking probing questions or digging deeper to find out all the facts."
He pointed out that there were a few exceptions -- namely, the Bloomington Alternative and "brave" writers of letters to the editor.
Tokarski said, "We've all seen what happens when the media and regulators don't do their jobs: we get financial collapses, environmental disasters and horrific wars. And the public is left in the dark until disasters hit them."
According to Tokarski, about a year ago at a public meeting Gov. Daniels told INDOT "'to throw out the rule book'" when it came to building I-69, and that's what INDOT has done ever since, "violating standard procedures but also likely state and federal laws. ... Meanwhile INDOT and the governor brag about the fact that I-69 in Indiana is the largest project of its kind."
INDOT is building a substandard highway, Tokarski said, but "it's still hugely expensive." CARR is challenging the highway proponents on "several legal fronts."
"Every state agency, including INDOT, is having to cut their budgets and let highways and bridges fall into great disrepair." He questioned, "Where is the outrage? Where is the condemnation?"
He concluded, "While dictatorships in other parts of the world are under siege, and masses of people are revolting to get some semblance of democracy, we are giving it up on I-69."
Elected to the county council this past November, Sam Allison campaigned on opposition to I-69 and won with a 76 to 24 percent margin of victory. Although some of his supporters said the highway was a state issue that he shouldn't address in his election campaign, many others urged him to make it a top priority.
"No matter what the governor plans to scrape up the money, it's going to cost cities, counties and drivers across the state." - Christine Glaser, environmental economist
"INDOT has blundered, and public outrage is at an all-time high. It's a new day," he declared: "we have new warriors on our side" and glean inspiration from "veterans of the movement."
Last, Doran announced that two important public meetings on I-69 are taking place next month.
On Thurs., May 5, at 6:30 p.m., at the Monroe County Library, rooms 1B and C, the I-69 Accountability Project is holding its first "community call-out meeting" to initiate its "New Phase Campaign" against I-69.
Then on Fri., May 13, at 1:30 p.m., the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is meeting at the city council chambers to decide whether to withdraw its official approval of I-69, contrary to INDOT's demands. If the MPO stands up to INDOT, they will prohibit millions of dollars in federal transportation funds from being squandered on I-69. Highway opponents encourage the public to attend this meeting to let the MPO members know how they feel about the highway.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.
For more information
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads - firstname.lastname@example.org.