Paul F. P. Pogue

Sunday, Oct. 27, residents from around Southwest Indiana will come together on a car tour of areas that lie within the path of proposed I-69 expansions. The goal is to make the public aware of the new highway"s impact and draw attention to the plight of those who may lose their homes under this plan.

Monroe County resident John Smith, founder of COUNT US (County Under New Terrain - U.S. I-69), said he hopes the multiple tours make the public aware of alternatives.

"We want to say that if this highway has become a political necessity, let"s get it on [U.S.] 41 and I-70, the existing route between Evansville and Indianapolis, and save a billion dollars that can be used to maintain our highways. The money it would take to build this would come from our federal allotment."

Smith said that he is also concerned with the financial impact; one of the routes, he noted, would cost $1.8 billion over nine years, while expanding the U.S. 41/I-70 route would cost $1 billion less. He said that even though he has been opposed to I-69 expansion for years, his recent discovery that his own home was one of those that would be directly in the path of one of the routes lent a personal edge to the fight.

"I"ve been opposed to this highway for over 10 years. I"ve spoken at every INDOT meeting on this since 1992. I ran for Congress and I-69 was one of my issues. Before it ran over my house, I always felt that Not In My Back Yard was the worst argument. As soon as it came over my house, I realized it was a very important argument."

In an Aug. 20 speech, Smith compared the impact of the highway to a natural disaster: "It"s like the biggest tornado ever that knocks flat every house in a very wide a swath from Evansville to Bloomington, with a lasting roar that may never stop. There has never been such a tornado."

A few weeks later, a series of tornadoes struck Indiana in a similar path, which Smith said helps illustrate his point.

"As it happened, that tornado came through almost the same track as one of the proposed new terrain routes," Smith said. "But a tornado doesn"t take away that land. If a tornado goes through a neighborhood it takes out some houses and leaves others. But the land heals; there"s a chance to rebuild. A highway never goes away. It breaks up neighborhoods. Ask anybody who"s ever had a highway built near them. The community never returns to what it was."

The tour starts in several different places over the course of the morning, including Washington and Evansville. The COUNT US Web site (www.i69tour.org) provides detailed information. Each will travel to South West Park, near I-465 and Mann Road, where speeches and music will take place between 3 and 5 p.m. A "wailing wall" will be set up there as well. "We will post pictures of what we miss most," Smith said.

The tours that travel through Amish areas will take a two-minute car stoppage while there. "We"ll be holding a moment of silence and respect for those who would be forced to give up their homes for a mode of transportation they don"t even use," Smith said. "We want to show them that we"re not here to impose on them."

Smith said he also hopes to demonstrate the high impact of highways on Indiana, and disprove the conventional wisdom that more highways bring economic growth to the state.

"People don"t understand that Indianapolis, Indiana has more interstate highways than any other city in any other state. More than New York, more than Los Angeles, more than San Francisco," Smith said. "Indiana ranks No. 4 in the U.S. in the percentage of our land that is under the control of interstate highways. If we"re No. 4 in interstate highways, why aren"t we in the top five economies? People in Indiana keep thinking that we"re deprived of highways. But we have our landmass chopped up into some of the smallest chunks by our highways."

For more information log on to www.i69tour.org. The tour routes and schedule can be found at www.i69tour.org/tour.html.

INDOT"s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, concerning the proposed new routes, can be seen at local libraries or at http://deis.i69indyevn.org/DEIS/atlas/index.html.

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