A Lively Night in the Fight Over Interstate 69

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(Bloomfield, Indiana - Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Tonight will be a big night for opponents of Interstate 69 in southern Indiana. The 20-year long local battle against the Canada-to-Mexico highway is reaching a climax. The state has released a draft environmental impact statement for the short segment closest to Bloomington, where the road is widely unpopular.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will host a public hearing this evening on the DEIS.  Public comments against the highway have historically failed to convince the Indiana Department of Transportation or the various Governors who have advanced the project. But one of the most contentious debates has long been based in Bloomington.

Longtime I-69 foes Thomas and Sandra Tokarski, the founders of  Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, sent an urgent email to their supporters asking them to attend. “Governor Daniels is  fast-tracking and cheapening I-69,” they wrote, referring to Mitch Daniels’ strategy of reducing engineering standards in order to fit the project into the state’s shrinking budget. “It is VERY IMPORTANT for lots of people to show up and comment on this devastating project. We must speak out or be paved over.” 

Advocates are encouraged to remain stoic. Hoosier Voices for I-69, an Evansville-based advocacy organization, sent its own message to supporters insisting that the meeting was not a rally. “While opponents have traveled far distances over the years to protest I-69 at hearings/meetings throughout Southwest Indiana, one thing has changed…the decision on whether or not to build I-69 is over,” they wrote. “Out of respect for those property-owners directly impacted, the Hoosier Voices for I-69 organization will NOT participate in the effort to turn the August 26th hearing into a rally for or against the I-69 project.”

In order to spend federal funds on Interstate 69 near Bloomington, the state needs the approval of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Last year, the MPO thwarted an attempt by INDOT to shoehorn I-69 into the city's formal Transportation Improvement Plan. But the MPO's policy committee is scheduled to vote September 10th on a formal request for inclusion of I-69, and Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan has indicated that he may reverse his vote to avoid losing discretionary funds that the state has threatened to withhold if I-69 is not acknowledged. If other members hold their ground, the vote next month could become the real showdown.

Look for a longer report on this meeting and an investigation into the city of Bloomington’s efforts to stop the highway next week on Transportation Nation.