“Jobs, jobs, jobs” – that’s the recurring refrain by I-69 proponents claiming that the interstate highway will bring economic development to Central and Southwest Indiana. But after nearly 21 years of opposing I-69, Thomas Tokarski says about that claim: “It’s bogus.”

“The myth of highways as economic saviors and bringers of jobs is very engrained in people’s minds. People don’t even question it anymore; they just assume that’s the case,” he says.

The reality is very different from the myth.

"Investing heavily in public transportation puts more people to work while creating or improving infrastructure we need more of. It’s a win-win." - Wired, Jan. 21, 2010In “It’s the Regional Economy Stupid! Misinterpreting the Benefits of Highway Construction,” Don Chen cites a comment by Professor Marlon Boarnet, at the University of California–Irvine, who has reviewed the literature on the economic benefits of new highways and “contends that while new roads are likely to create new economic activity for a limited area, they also tend to shift economic growth from one place to another within a metropolitan region.”

Even the November 1995 Corridor 18 Feasibility Study: Final Report, by Wilbur Smith Associates, which favored the highway, stated, “The business gained along the route is lost business elsewhere.” Corridor 18 is the Mexico-to-Canada highway, of which I-69 is one part.

One also has to ask what types of jobs the highway would bring, Tokarski and others argue. According to the Corridor 18 study, 60 percent of them would be in the service, retail and wholesale trade industries. That means low-paying, dead-end jobs – cleaning motel rooms, serving fast food meals and working the cash registers at convenience stores/gas stations.

The July 2011 I-69 Final Environmental Impact Statement by the Indiana Department of Transportation acknowledges that the highway will bring only 771 permanent jobs to Monroe and Greene counties. The cost of that section of the highway, Section 4, is estimated to be $700 million. That means almost $908,000 would be spent to bring each job to the area. Again, these jobs are mostly transfers.

Many studies have shown that public transit creates more jobs than highways do. “Every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced 16,419 job-months, while the same amount spent on highway infrastructure projects produced 8,781,” according to an article titled “To Create Jobs, Build Public Transit, Not Highways” in the Jan. 21, 2010, issue of Wired.
"The business gained along the route is lost business elsewhere." - 1995 Corridor 18 Feasibility Study: Final Report
According to the article's author, Keith Barry, figures from Smart Growth America show public transportation produces more jobs because it requires less acquisition of land; buses, trains and subways “need people to operate them and maintain the infrastructure”; and the workforce for public transit has more-diverse skills than does the workforce needed for highway construction.

The bottom line, Barry says, “Investing heavily in public transportation puts more people to work while creating or improving infrastructure we need more of. It’s a win-win.”

“The path to prosperity isn’t paved with asphalt” by Kenny Elkomous in the Spring 2011 Friends of the Earth Newsmagazine, states, “Investments in public transportation create 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new roads, and road repair and maintenance creates 16 percent more jobs per dollar than new roads.”

It’s well-documented that roads and bridges in Indiana are in poor shape, highway opponents say. New jobs can come from their maintenance and repair instead of construction of a new interstate.

Indianapolis has more interstate connections that any other city in the nation, and Indiana ranks 10th state in the nation in the number of rural interstate miles.

Yet data from the U.S. Department of Labor say unemployment in the Hoosier state was 8.5 percent in July 2011.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us. Mary Ann Williams contributed to this story.