New terrain I-69 in jeopardy

The Indiana Department of Transportation's admitted $2.2 billion budget shortfall may be even bigger. Tim Maloney, director of the Hoosier Environmental Council: "INDOT's highway planning process has been operating outside of reality for a long time."

Last week, a coalition of citizens and environmental groups opposed to the I-69 highway extension project released a study suggesting the shortfall could be as much as $6.1 billion. The coalition includes the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR), the Hoosier Environmental Council and COUNT US!

Sandra and Thomas Tokarski of CARR compared the projects listed in INDOT's Legislative Survey, which lists proposed highway projects in legislative districts, with INDOT's Long Range Transportation Plan, which lists projects and the year they are to be scheduled through 2030.

In comparing these plans, the Tokarskis made the following observations, which they have since shared with every state legislator in Indiana.

* One hundred and sixteen projects totaling $6.2 billion appear in both the Legislative Survey and the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Some of these projects, like the extension of I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, are not scheduled in the LRTP until after the beginning of the next decade.

* One hundred projects scheduled for the next decade in the LRTP, totaling $2.1 billion, were omitted in the Legislative Survey.

* On the other hand, the Survey added 53 brand new projects, 12 of which were added in the last few weeks, which do not appear in the LRTP - and for which numbers were not available.

The Tokarskis say that, according to their analysis, the real new-highway funding gap adds up to $4.4 billion over the next 10 years - before adding the cost of the I-69 extension and before adding the cost of the 53 new projects. They say that when I-69 is included, the funding gap swells to at least $6.1 billion.

The Tokarskis claim the highway funding gap is at least twice that claimed by INDOT and that the proposed extension of I-69 threatens every other proposed new highway project in the state of Indiana.

Tim Maloney, director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, characterized the significance of the Tokarskis' work: "It's added evidence that INDOT's highway planning process has been operating outside of reality for a long time. As a result, it has a laundry list of projects no one knows how to pay for."

Maloney believes the spending gap may be too much for the I-69 project to overcome. "I don't think the new terrain [highway] will be built," he said. "The combination of exorbitant cost and growing public opposition will finally do it in."

But Maloney cautions I-69 opponents not to be complacent about the new terrain highway's clouded future. The state, he said, is continuing to pay consultants millions of dollars to continue with planning. "They are still proceeding toward building the most costly, most environmentally damaging and the route that will take the longest to build - if they can just come up with the funds to build it."

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