They arrive over the course of the day, hundreds of people driving through dozens of southern Indiana counties on the afternoon of Sunday, October 27, as part of the COUNT US car tour protesting the expansion of I-69 through new terrain. They converge on Southwestway Park, which lies on one of the potential new routes, a lush green and orange landscape just north of the Morgan/Marion County border.
Paul Fox, of Decatur Township, places a photo on the "wailing wall" of what people will miss most if their route is chosen for the I-69 extension.
The crowd of people is in good spirits despite the chilly evening air. A brief look at the parking lot shows the breadth of support from all walks of life: Lincoln town cars alongside primer-painted old jalopies. The event is a classic old-school voice-of-the-people protest, complete with angry rhetoric, folk songs and moving speeches. Mitch Rice emcees, plays guitar and sings, in between a long stream of people speaking their piece. COUNT US founder and event organizer John Smith gives the keynote, in favor of selecting Route 1, using the pre-existing I-70 and U.S. 41 as the foundation for the expansion. "I tell people, 3b is the most expensive, the most damaging to the environment, while 41-70 is a billion dollars cheaper and does the least damage to the environment. And everybody I talk to says, "Well, let"s put it on 41-70!" I sell bicycles for a living, and if I could sell bicycles that easily, I"d be a rich man." Among his interests in the case, Smith says, is the correlation between job loss and highways; he notes Indiana ranks No. 1 for job loss and No. 4 for the amount of land dedicated to highways. A graph displayed on the COUNT US web site (www.i69tour.org), he says, charts this same correlation for several states. "People say, "It"s common sense. Everyone knows jobs come with roads." But a lot of times saying "common sense" means someone"s trying to trick you into not thinking analytically." Before and after Smith, dozens of people speak, one after another, telling their stories. Thomas Tokarski, of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads: "This is not a democratic process. INDOT is a rogue agency. They spend $9 million for a study that is bogus and biased and they withhold information from the citizens who paid for it. And they don"t even inform people whose land"s going to be taken with enough time to comment on the project." Sarge Visher, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Julia Carson: "The Congresswoman has been avidly interested in seeing smart things happen as we ponder a project as vast as this highway," he says. "We are all trustees of the future." Indiana University law professor Cathy Crosson: "I"ve been very gratified by the extent to which people say, "No new terrain at all" and not just "Not the area closest to me." I hope that even if they don"t choose the route closest to you, to think about what it will mean, the devastation that it will wreak on your fellow Hoosiers." And others: "We are the true conservatives here ñ we want to conserve our land!" one fellow says. An elderly gentleman, voice shaking, says, "I"m getting too old. I"m too old to move again." The opposition has garnered a measure of support from Senator Richard Lugar, who sent a letter to INDOT Commissioner Brian Nichol and members of COUNT US: "As a landowner who would be called upon under Alternative 3, Option B1 to surrender land for an entire mile of new highway, I believe that courtesy and transparency dictate that I would be pro-actively informed of these plans," Lugar wrote. "I believe that every farm owner and farm family affected by I-69 planning options should have ample notice of vulnerability Ö My strong suggestion would be to eliminate all of the Mann Road options and ideas Ö I believe that this would be a tragic public policy and environmental error and this is why I pose the issue in such stark and unmistakable terms to help provide very public and timely debate." At least 100 cars fill the parking lot, and they"re not all that were involved. Smith estimates between 250 and 300 cars participated in the drive, many stopping off at the various points, such as a similar rally taking place at Oliver Winery. The "Wailing Wall," set up at the front of the site, consists of several boards where people pin up pictures of their houses, landscapes, trees, whatever it is they"ll miss most about the area that could be lost. On Nov. 7, the last day of the public comment period, the boards and a stack of petitions will be delivered to the governor"s mansion. Afterward, Smith recalls a radio show recently where he got into an argument with a caller who didn"t seem to care about the emotional impact of the situation. "I was thinking, "buddy, this is my HOME we"re talking about here.""