The message on I-69 from Gov. Mitch Daniels seems to be "toll road or no road." For the people I represent, even a cursory look at the idea of a toll road leads to the conclusion that no road would be the better option.
The economic development case for a new terrain I-69 has always been on shaky ground, with great debate about how many new jobs the highway might create. The toll road proposal now moves us from not just questioning whether there is much to be gained from a new terrain I-69 to how much damage will a toll road do to the Bloomington area's economy.
Countless small businesses will be harmed as they are walled off from the traffic that now flows by each day on State Road 37. Will the people who now spontaneously stop at places like Oliver Winery exit at the next interchange, pay the toll, and seek out a frontage road to return to the winery?
Gov. Mitch Daniels got some pretty good press recently when he told me at a news conference that Bloomington is not representative of the entire state. But had the state's first Republican governor in 16 years accompanied me to the GOP stronghold of Martinsville last week, he might have reconsidered his assertion.
First, he would have understood why his Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) remains the most reviled of all state agencies. INDOT officials and their high-priced, taxpayer-funded Evansville consultants had the temerity to make lengthy presentations on I-69 without telling the 600 citizens in attendance that they would have to pay a toll to drive through their own city.
And had he listened, he wouldn't have been able to tell the Morgan County farmers, loggers, pastors, teachers, landowners and retirees from the stereotypical "Bloomington radicals."
Mitch Daniels came to Bloomington on Sept. 29 to tout his new I-69 toll road as an economic lifeline for the entire state. But implicit in his message was a chilling new reality for Bloomington citizens: rather than reaping the $3 billion boondoggle's alleged economic benefits, they will be paying out of pocket for it on a daily basis, for the rest of their lives.
When asked at a news conference if his plan would require Bloomington motorists to pay a toll on what is now Ind. 37 to, say, drive across town or commute to work in Indianapolis, the governor said almost certainly.
"Probably you're talking about the whole road," he said. " ... Well over 40 percent of the cost of the road happens from Bloomington north. So, it's not illogical that if you're trying to save tax dollars, and cover at least a fraction of the cost with user fees or tolling, that it would run the whole length."
While Daniels called himself a "hard-boiled, property rights conservative," he acknowledged that he would use eminent domain to take private property for I-69. And under his plan, he would then lease the land's economic value to a private corporation for private profit. The landowners whose property he takes would then have to pay that corporation a "user fee" to drive across their own land.
"As old as the republic is the notion that when there's a definite public purpose, like moving people and goods around on a road, eminent domain is appropriate," he said, as INDOT Commissioner Tom Sharp nodded in agreement.
Tom and Sandra Tokarski have 15 years worth of stories to tell about Interstate 69. Sitting in a Bloomington coffee shop, without a drop of coffee, they wax eternal about the highway and the impacts it would have on everyday citizens and their communities, their environment, their taxes, their quality of life, and their government. Especially their government.
Sometimes with anger, usually with humor, always with intelligence, they articulate a history of political corruption within Indiana state government that should be the stuff of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism. But with the exception of one Indianapolis TV station, Indiana media are more interested in a slight, shaggy-haired, 18-year-old kid and a can of spray paint. It's just not civil to express oneself with paint.
But in the Tokarskis' experiences with the $3 Billion Boondoggle known as new-terrain I-69, civility has a fairly narrow meaning when deployed for political purposes by those in positions of authority. Their confrontation with uniformed state police troopers who physically blocked them from handing out literature at a public meeting last month in Oakland City was pretty uncivil by their definition, and then some.
"This is a threat to our democracy," Sandra says.
Karly Knable says the term "festive" best describes the anti-I-69/NAFTA rally in downtown Indianapolis on June 4. "A sort of mobile street party," agrees Frank White. "The rhythm section was really good that day."
Knable, White, and about 50 Roadless Summer protesters from Bloomington, Indianapolis, Centerville, and points beyond marched through the streets of downtown Indy that Saturday, drumming and chanting and singing to raise awareness about the assaults on Hoosier workers' pocketbooks and democracy known as Interstate 69 and free trade.
They started at New York and Meridian Streets, snaked around Monument Circle and through downtown, and then descended on the Statehouse, where they gathered on the north steps by the legislators' parking lot. The point, White says, was to "refocus attention on I-69 and also get people really excited for a summer of resistance."
As they left the parking lot, they say, neither had any idea that the Capitol building had been vandalized. "Many people weren't even aware there had been any graffiti done," Knable says. "And then all of a sudden the cops show up."
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR) does not condone or support violent protests or the destruction of property. Specifically, we denounce the defacing of the State Capitol. Our policy has always been to reject such actions. We also know this was an aberration perpetrated by a few individuals. Most groups working on the I-69 issue are respectful and law abiding and should not be judged by the destructive acts of the few.
CARR does not need to resort to such tactics. Our legal and civic activities have gained unprecedented public support and respect. Petition signatures opposing the state's plan, numbering nearly 140,000, have been presented to the state. Comments on the latest DEIS for the project numbered over 21,000; 94% of which are opposed to the state's preferred alternative for I-69.
In the struggle to stop the I-69 highway, I have heard men and women of all ages emphatically proclaim that they would lie down in front of bulldozers before allowing the highway through our town. Well, this summer they may have those opportunities.
Activists from across the country are converging on Bloomington to stop construction of this NAFTA superhighway. In fact, direct action is already underway. On Thursday, a group of 10 activists biked out to the I-69 section planning office, amid the west-side sprawl, in the middle of an office park that includes a store called "Affordable Dentures."
The scene was rather surreal, activists chanting slogans and beating makeshift drums surrounded by maps of the new highway emblazoned with the words "Corridor 4." As they left, biking across the bridge, a police officer stopped them, delivering a trespassing advisory. When asked why they had done what they did, one activist said, "INDOT has shut down comment on this highway. We were exercising our constitutional right to dissent on property owned by us as citizens of a democratic government." They were let go with a warning.
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
Hoosier Environmental Council
Thomas Sharp, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation stated on Tuesday that the state faces a $2.1 billion shortfall in its long-range construction plans.The state's estimated cost of nearly $2 billion for I-69 would almost cover that anticipated deficit. If the new-terrain I-69 were dropped it would free-up funding for needed projects around the state.
In light of these serious questions concerning funding, we call on INDOT to cease the ongoing studies for I-69. If INDOT proceeds with the new terrain alternative it will lock the state into the most expensive and destructive route for I-69 while other less expensive, less destructive alternatives are ignored.
"I-69 is an albatross around the neck of transportation funding in Indiana," stated Thomas Tokarski, president of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, (CARR). "It will ensnarl transportation planning for the foreseeable future."
As festivities for Earth Day begin, local groups are pursuing new routes in their fight against I-69. The Indiana Public Interest Research Group (INPIRG) expects to increase support for the anti-highway struggle by educating new audiences. The fresh focus will bring diverse students together from various regions of the state, with a passion to fight any direction the road takes.
"The sense of civic duty is important," says Alex Witteveld, who has been an intern and member of INPIRG for three years. "There is more to college than a GPA, and Bloomington is more than a place to get your degree." Originally from Indianapolis, Witteveld has adopted Bloomington as his new home, and he feels commercialization and urban sprawl are ruining the city.
INPIRG's next step is providing a tool to help increase students' awareness of the I-69 issue and their abilities to influence the decision whether and where to build it. Student volunteers have developed an instructional CD-ROM that contains contact e-mails for legislators and direct links for sending letters to the editor at newspapers across Indiana. A list of tips on letter writing includes starting with a personal view, specifically how I-69 will affect home towns in all 92 counties.
Fifteen years of citizen complaints about incompetence and corruption at the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) are finally being validated by Indiana media and politicians.
Before Gov. Mitch Daniels had even taken the oath of office, he publicly identified INDOT as one of the worst-run of all state agencies. And in a month-long series of investigative reports that began last week, WISH-TV in Indianapolis is exposing the cost, in money and lives, of incompetence and insider dealings at INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
I-69 activists are pressing Channel 8's I-Team investigation to also examine the political corruption surrounding the $3 billion I-69 Boondoggle. The two are clearly related, and Channel 8 has reported the issue before. But it remains to be seen how far the station will go with this series.
In today's issue, The Bloomington Alternative is reprinting a story documenting the flow of taxpayer money from INDOT to an Evansville consulting firm and back to political campaign coffers, primarily those of Frank O'Bannon, Joe Kernan, and the state Democratic Party.