Jan. 9, afternoon: Flora Knable was nervous in the hours leading up to the announcement by Gov. Frank O"Bannon that a route had been selected for the long-discussed I-69 extension. For one more hour, she told herself, I can pretend I"ll still have a home.
"I know many will be pleased by this decision, and some will be upset," Gov. O"Bannon says.
Knable"s keen interest in the issue was twofold. Her home is one that could possibly be taken away under eminent domain in two of the proposed routes, 3A and 3B, and she and her husband John Smith have been organizers of opposition to the I-69 new terrain extension for some years. In Evansville, cheers and scattered boos accompanied O"Bannon"s announcement that route 3C, the most direct route through Bloomington and south to Evansville, would be the new route. "It"s a route for economic health and educational opportunities for many, many Hoosiers," O"Bannon said. He estimated that the benefits of the new highway would include $162 million in added yearly personal income and 1,500 fewer accidents with serious injuries each year. He stated that the estimated cost would be $1.7 billion, 80 percent of which would be paid for with federal highway funds, over the course of eight to 14 years. "I know many will be pleased by this decision, and some will be upset," O"Bannon said. "I"ve always been an advocate of protecting our precious natural resources, and I pledge to you today this will not waver as this project proceeds." Even in the moment of relief at hearing her own home was out of danger, Knable felt her anger rising. "When you hear it"s not going to be your home that"s lost, you think you"re going to be happy, but you"re not," she said. "You think about what it"s like for all these people that you know on that route." People like Thomas and Sandra Tokarski have been opposed to I-69 expansion for 12 years as the founders of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads. Their home is one of those on route 3C that may end up being lost. Thomas Tokarski was unsurprised but no less angered by the decision, which, he says, favored a route that the O"Bannon Administration had been aiming to select all along. "They"re cramming it down people"s throats," Tokarski said. "There is more opposition to this project than any other in the history of this state. If this goes through, we"re no longer in a democracy, it"s a bureaucracy." John Smith, Tokarski and other opposition organizers repeated that the fight was just getting underway. "We worried that once people weren"t under the threat of this, they"d disappear, and that hasn"t happened," Smith said. Among the strategies Smith envisions for the next steps are pressing the economic issue, taking it to the courts ("I think the courts are less corrupt than the political system in this state," he said) and statewide politics. "I think a candidate for governor would find a smoother road for office by being against this rather than for it," Smith said. "Of course, it"s doubtful they could get the same amount of campaign donations." Andy Knott, of the Hoosier Environmental Council, pointed out that many environmental obstacles exist. "This is the exact same route that the governor has been pushing for all these years. It still carries all the same old baggage used to slow down and defeat this route in the past," Knott said. "There is still the karst and cave regions and groundwater issues we"ve known about. Patoka National Wildlife Refuge will be cut in half." He also noted the issue of where the state"s 20 percent contribution to the cost will come from. "It was odd that the governor made this announcement of a nearly $2 billion highway project the same day his staff is releasing their budget to the Legislature to try and fix a billion dollar shortfall." Tokarski worried that, in the end, the project would result in countless millions of dollars wasted and unnecessary heartache and pain for all involved. "The state is going to spend millions more dollars on this project, and it"s all going to go to waste," Tokarski said. "We"ve corrected a lot of mistakes. That"s why this has been long and drawn-out. And eventually we"ll correct this mistake, too." To read "A Road Untravelled," a 2000 NUVO feature about people living on the route who are likely to lose their property, log on to http://www.nuvo.net/archive/051100/featured/.