Indianapolis Star- Editorial

One could say an important Bloomington group has offered our avowedly budget-conscious state government a chance to save $400 million.

That’s not exactly how the Daniels administration looks at the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s decision not to include the extension of I-69 in its local plan.

The proposed 27-mile stretch from Crane to Bloomington, estimated to cost $400 million, is a key segment of the roughly $3 billion “new-terrain” route from Evansville to Indianapolis. Opposed by the city councils of Indianapolis, Bloomington and Martinsville, as well as thousands of petitioners concerned about property loss, environmental damage and sheer expense, the overall project has been accelerated by Gov. Mitch Daniels but will be far from completion when he leaves office at the end of next year.

Opponents argue there’s still time to switch to a vastly cheaper, much less land-consuming route using existing U.S. 41 and I-70. While the state is having none of that, it faces tough questions as it persists with the new-terrain strategy.

If it fails to satisfy the Bloomington/Monroe County MPO’s concerns about environmental and fiscal impact, the state may not be able to obtain federal funds needed for the Crane-Bloomington stretch.

Even if that hurdle is surmounted, the most problematic segment would remain. Funding has not been secured for the conversion of Ind. 37 from Bloomington to Indianapolis into the superhighway, and the formidable forces of opposition include not only tree-huggers and individual property owners but also state legislators and the Indianapolis Perry Township establishment. Tens of millions of dollars in property tax value would fall from the rolls with an I-69 link to the Southside area, whereas I-70 already supplies that hookup.

The recent timeout called in Bloomington is unlikely to derail the state’s plans, but it is an occasion for rethinking what might well become the costliest infrastructure enterprise in Indiana history. The economic case for new terrain over U.S. 41/I-70 never has been convincingly made; and freeway construction in general has lost favor over the decades the I-69 extension has been hashed over.

The Daniels administration needs to hear from the leadership in counties north of Monroe, as well as from the grass roots, that much more than $400 million can be saved. With I-69 suspended, the governor can explain why his famous frugality is not.


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