Bloomington City Councilman Andy Ruff sent the following letter on July 12 to INDOT consultant Wendy Vachet, project manager for I-69 in Bloomington. Ruff sent the letter on City Council letterhead.
Thank you for spending a few minutes on the phone with me the other day discussing the role of your firm, Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., in tier 2 study work for section 5 of the proposed I-69 extension. I look forward to visiting your office sometime soon and meeting you in person.
I regret that I was unable to attend the briefing for elected officials that was held at your local office on June 29. I was out of the state at that time and otherwise would certainly have been there. Thank you for the invitation.
However, parts of the invitation letter that I received from you are of significant concern to me. The letter, which was not dated but which I assume was the same letter all other elected officials received, contained the following parargraph:
"In March 2004 the Federal Highway Administration approved the 142 mile corridor, which will extend I-69 from Evansville to Indianapolis. The new highway is widely regarded as a key component to the future economic vitality of Southwestern Indiana. It will prevent nearly 40,000 serious injury accidents and save travelers between Indianapolis and Evansville nearly an hour round trip."
Considering that Michael Baker, Jr., Inc. is a firm hired to presumably do an objective, unbiased study, your use of such benefit claims from INDOT indicates significant bias right out of the starting gate. I must question whether firms that hold such biases can perform objective studies. The tagging on of these claims at the end of an otherwise simple letter inviting officials to a briefing in your office is inappropriate propagandizing and cheerleading for a proposed project that your firm is supposed to be preparing to honestly study and evaluate.
The benefit claims of INDOT that your letter repeats are highly questionable. It is at least as widely regarded that I-69 will do little or nothing for the future economic vitality of Southwestern Indiana, and harm the economy of the state overall, as any misallocation of scarce tax dollars on such a massive scale represents large opportunity costs for Indiana. And here in our community, many residents, including several elected officials, feel strongly that I-69 will diminish the future economic vitality of Bloomington by damaging the key characteristics and assets of our community that give us our competitive advantage over other communities.
Several objective, independent, professional economic cost-benefit studies have concluded that the project will have a negative return on investment, costing more than it will generate in benefits. I-69 has never passed an objective benefit/cost analysis.
Even BLA (I-69 consultant Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates), in the tier 1 EIS (Technical Report 6.7.4, on page 37) writes, "When this population growth is taken into account, we find that the real disposable income per capita for the build alternatives does not differ significantly from the 2025 forecast for the no build alternative." Again, to blandly repeat the propaganda of INDOT is very misleading.
The safety claims in the letter are highly suspicious. A close review of the studies used to generate the numbers shows that they are based on INDOT's use of incomplete data, extrapolated to extremes, to force a predetermined conclusion. A moment of critical thinking makes it difficult to see how there could possibly be 40,000 fewer serious injury accidents in the southwest part of the state because of I-69. Most of the region is relatively sparsely populated and currently has very low numbers of accidents, serious and otherwise.
The presence of I-69 will increase the amount of traffic in these areas. The amount of traffic is a major determinant, if not the major one, in accident rates. I was assured by a prominent traffic engineer at a top US university that, "Though the models of your state transportation agency probably don't work this way, I can pretty much assure you that for every car taken off a local road and now driving on the interstate, which they are counting as a safety increase, there will be at least one new vehicle traveling on a local road because of that interstate, which they are not counting as a safety decrease."
In addition, by INDOT'S own plans 130 or more existing roads that currently cross the corridor will be closed, forcing an increase in the time of exposure to accidents for thousands of local residents as they are forced to drive more miles to get around closed roads that they previously traveled during daily activities. More time in the car, traveling the very roads INDOT claims are so dangerous, means more accidents for these Hoosiers.
Traffic in all counties will increase due to the presence of I-69, and there will likely be speed increases transferred from the interstate to some of the local roads as has been found in other areas.
Traffic accidents are at least as closely correlated with amount of traffic, time of exposure, and speed as they are with the type of roadway — more closely correlated I believe. It is nonsense to suggest that there will be 40,000 fewer serious injury accidents because of I-69.
It is also unfortunate that the letter conveys the assumption that the highway has been approved and the project is a certainty, which is not the case. The consultants are beginning the second part of a long study that will determine if this route is feasible to follow. Considering the indications of poor quality of the first part of the study, for example the significant missed karst features southwest of Bloomington, it is reasonable to believe that several obstacles may be uncovered in tier 2 that could change the viability of the proposed route.
Since you explained to me today on the phone that Bernardin and Lochmueller, the firm that developed (many say "manufactured") the tier one study, will have the power to review your firm's work (and I assume modify it if they feel it should be modified), I am even more concerned about the accuracy and objectivity of the tier 2 work. Will the public have access to your firm's work before it is turned over to BLA?
In any case, each of the six sections in the study will be subject to agency review, public comment and its own ROD. The final route for I-69, indeed, the determination if the project will go forward at all, has not been made at this time.
And even if the route is eventually approved, there are huge funding obstacles for this highway, the most expensive in the state's history.
Citizens and public officials will be watching these studies closely. I suggest the consultants drop the propaganda put out by INDOT and simply do objective, unbiased studies. To do less is to invite the objections and resistance that has followed this project from the start.
Bloomington City Council Member at-large