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Another Opinion

Editorial

To casual Hoosier observers, whether they live in Fort Wayne, New Albany, Hammond, Kokomo or elsewhere, the brouhaha over selecting a route for a new interstate highway through southwestern Indiana may seem irrelevant to them and their community. But it's not. And it's time for the rest of Indiana to realize it before millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars are sunk into a project that could needlessly drain transportation coffers for years to come.

While the routing controversy for Interstate 69 tends to be a struggle between citizens, public officials and economic development leaders from Terre Haute, Evansville and Bloomington, the decision, expected later this year from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the governor, has far-reaching impact. Bert Williams, chairman of the Greater Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce I-69 Task Force, recently brought the issue to the foreground with a letter he penned for distribution around the state. The points made in his letter demand consideration and reflection.

Williams wrote that virtually every city and county in Indiana has at least one important transportation project in the works. But the excessive cost of building I-69 -- estimated as high as nearly $2 billion -- could serve as a serious threat to those projects. In some cases, the depletion of funds could delay worthwhile projects around the state. In others, it may cause projects to be canceled altogether.

It doesn't have to be that way. Because InDOT and the governor have the option of saving millions of dollars through wise route selection. Given the opportunity to save up to $800 million on the project's price tag, all indications point to the governor and InDOT looking the other way. Rather than embracing savings by choosing a less-costly route, they seem hell-bent on building an obscenely expensive new-terrain route -- a $1.8 billion boondoggle of epic proportions.

The state has a perfectly good alternative. Using the existing routes of U.S. 41 and Interstate 70 in Vigo County, the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars, according to its own feasibility studies. What's more, they could do so while not damaging the environment and destroying farmland in southwest Indiana, and not diverting traffic -- and the economic benefits it brings -- away from Terre Haute. And, yes, preserving a mighty large chunk of money for projects around the state.

Bert Williams is right on target when he says it doesn't make sense to jeopardize progress elsewhere in the state while a new-terrain I-69 soaks up almost all the available funds for years to come. "Let's save the extra money for other projects," Williams says. "Let's save the extra farm, forest and wetlands acreage that would be wasted by the expensive new-terrain route. Let's tell the governor that we insist I-69 use the cheapest route -- I-70 and U.S. 41."

Gov. Frank O'Bannon has long supported a new-terrain I-69, so that makes it imperative for people across Indiana who are concerned about the financial impact of his favored route to keep the heat on his office

Terre Haute Tribune-Star Editorial, November, 2002

 

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