Red Tape or a Green Vine? A New Lawsuit Against I-69

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(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) In Indiana, another battle has begun in the war over Interstate 69.

Wednesday, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) and the Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR) filed a complaint (pdf) asking the U.S. District Court to invalidate an Army Corps of Engineers permit issued for the I-69 Evansville-to-Indianapolis highway project.

"The suit alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers never conducted a thorough, independent, and objective review of the permit application or analyzed alternative routes before issuing the permit," a press release says. "One of these alternatives, a route following U.S. 41 and I-70, would save Indiana taxpayers over a billion dollars and reduce the project’s destruction of wetlands, streams, forests and farmland by 60 percent."

The members of both HEC and CARR have been fighting the state highway department over its plans for the “NAFTA Highway” for twenty years, objecting not as NIMBYs but on more universal social, economic, and environmental grounds. Both groups were party to a 2007 lawsuit, also filed in District Court, that argued more generally that Indiana’s new-terrain route had been chosen unlawfully. The decision (pdf) by Judge David Hamilton, upheld the state’s actions, but left the door open to future lawsuits such as the one filed Wednesday.

The initial hearing in the case probably won’t be for a few weeks, but meanwhile the conversation about the relative importance of environmental concerns and highway construction will continue, in a different way, nearby.

Congressman John Mica is bringing his House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure to Indianapolis next Saturday, February 19th, for one of a series of listening sessions the committee is holding before drafting reauthorization legislation.

Among the intended topics of conversation in Indiana and elsewhere? How to “cut government red tape and streamline the project delivery process,” euphemisms, environmentalists fear, for weakening the environmental review process and further eviscerating the spirit of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Mica, who’s been saying often that we need to “do more with less” and increase private sector investment in our infrastructure, will no doubt be eager to hear again the heroic tale of how Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 Billion in 2006. Mica will no doubt be glad to hear about a bill before the Indiana Senate that would provide blanket authority for the Indiana Department of Transportation to pursue public-private partnerships for highway projects.

The HEC and CARR are no doubt eager to give the Committee their expert perspective as well. We’ll see whether they will be included among the speakers.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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