Interstate 69 in Southwest Indiana, 1988-2008. An Online Research Guide
INTRODUCTIONIn February 1990, the Southwest Indiana Highway Feasibility Study was submitted to the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) after 2 years of detailed preparation, and business, public, and government agency input.
Commonly referred to as the "Donohue Study" (the Chicago engineering/consulting firm who conducted the study), the Congressionally mandated Study's stated purpose was to "assess the economic feasibility of highway improvements in three prospective north-south highway corridors [linking Indianapolis and Evansville] in southwest Indiana".
The Study concluded that none of the new corridors considered from Indianapolis to Evansville could be recommended because of:
And further noted that, if constructed, the project would be "the most costly highway in the state of Indiana since the development of the interstate system". [a]
- Low cost/benefit ratios when compared with similar projects nationally.
- The uncertainity of any long range economic forecasts; an unlikely lack of sustained sources of county revenue mechanisms for the project.
Despite the Donohue Study's no build recommendation and a subsequent negative recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration to Congress in July 1990, the Administration of Governor Evan Bayh pursued planning for an Indianapolis-to-Evansville highway by hiring the Evansville firm of Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates to engineer the project and to prepare an environmental impact statement for it. [b]
In November 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) which designated the extention of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Memphis Tennessee and ultimately to the Texas/Mexican border as part of high priority corridor 18, boosting the chances of an Indianapolis-to-Evansville link.[c]
Indiana 8th district Congressman, Frank McCloskey, commenting in a November 1991 news release stated: ``the fact that the Indianapolis-to-Memphis corridor has been designated as part of the "New National Highway System" is a real plus in terms of future funding''. By statute, the proposed I-69 extension from Indianapolis to the Mexican border was intended to be part of a planned 155,000-mile expansion of the nation's new highway system.[d]
The 1993 passage of the North American Free Treaty Agreement (NAFTA) by Congress provided additional impetus for a Canada to Mexico federal interstate corridor, spawning I-69's nickname -- the "NAFTA super highway". In spite of growing grassroots opposition to a new terrain route in southwest Indiana, the realization of an Indianapolis-to-Evansville federal highway link appeared nearly certain with the passage of the National Highway System Designation Act (NHSDA) of 1995 and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA21) of 1998. [e] Both of the Acts officially reaffirmed I-69 as high priority "Corridor 18".
It was at this time, in the late 1990s, that the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) expanded its study to include a no-new terrain multiplexed route from Indianapolis via I 70 to Terre Haute and south to Evansville on U.S. 41, among several others. Conservationist groups, who favored the link as the least destructive, argued that the proposed Indianapolis-to-Terre Haute-to-Evansville route would avoid farmland and forested areas without making the route significantly longer. By December 2000, a total of 14 possible routes were under consideration by the state. [f]
In September 2001, the state narrowed the number of potential routes between Indianapolis and Evansville from 14 to 5 as part of the "Tier 1" process. Environmentalists and highway opponents accused the State of rigging the process in favor of the final 5 "preferred" new terrain route alternatives when the Indianapolis to Evansville via Terre Haute I-70/U.S. 41 upgraded link was excluded from further consideration. [g]
Following the release of the State's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), in November 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered its opposition to the 5 new terrain "preferred routes" in a letter from EPA Region 5 Administrator Thomas V. Skinner to INDOT. In the letter, Skinner stated that the Agency's "objections were due to the significant impacts the 'preferred alternatives' would have on multiple resources, particularly wetlands and aquatic resources and potential impacts to surface/ground water." Although not legally binding, Skinner's letter went on to recommend that INDOT re-evaluate using the existing U.S.41/Interstate 70 for Interstate 69. [h]
In November 2002, the U.S. Department of the Interior also registered sharp criticism of the "Alternative 3" new terrain corridors through Monroe County to the Federal Highway Administration. Their legally non binding letter also supported "the I-70/U.S. 41 route as "a viable alternative" to the state's favored new-terrain route via Bloomington because, as Willie R. Taylor, director of the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance with the Department of the Interior, wrote: "it poses far less damage or disruption to wetlands, flood plains, forests, karst (cave and sinkhole) terrain, or other environmental features than does any new-terrain route". [i]
Opposition to the new terrain route alternatives was also widespread and often outspoken among citizen groups in Indiana. Of the written comments submitted to INDOT during the public comment period, 20,467 of the 21,873 respondants -- or 94% -- opposed the new-terrain routes alternatives or supported the Interstate 70/US 41 option, according to the Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR), who tallied and analyzed the thousands of responses. [j]
Opposition to the 5 new terrain "preferred" alternatives included hundreds of Amish residents in Daviess County, and elected and representative groups such as the Bloomington City Council, the Citizens Action Coalition, and the Chambers of Commerce and economic development organizations in Vigo, Clay, Knox, Parke, Putnam, and Vermillion counties, among other Indiana grass roots organizations.
On January 9, 2003, Governor Frank O'Bannon picked the '3C' new-terrain route alternative slated to go through the cities of Martinsville and Bloomington, and Greene, Daviess, Pike, Gibson, and Vanderburgh counties, despite opposition to the new terrain routes. "This is for them. It's all about places like Tell City, Jasper, Washington, Huntingburg . . . all the way down", Gov. Frank O'Bannon said in making the announcement at a news conference in Evansville -- "it's all about these counties down here." "This is the only route that really helps them.'' O'Bannon acknowledged his decision would cause permanent damage to the landscape, and that many Hoosiers were upset. But he pledged the state would do all it can to minimize damage to farms, forests and wetlands. [k] Although new terrain highway opponents were disappointed, most weren't surprised and vowed to keep fighting the plan to defeat it, calling it "the most outrageous route". [l]
In March 2004, the Federal Highway Administration endorsed the '3C' route allowing the state to proceed with the design and engineering of the I-69 extension. Skeptics, like State Sen. Lawrence Borst, R-Greenwood, chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, however, doubted that the project would ever be fully funded: "The fact that the federal government OK'd the project doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean it's going to be built. No way can you build all that stuff and I-69. It won't even come close to the amount of money unless the gas tax is raised. It's kind of a wish list, the 25-year plan." Borst further predicted that, "interchange expenses and other features ultimately would drive the cost of the project beyond the current  estimate of $1.78 billion", and, "accepting the (estimate), one can calculate it would require $160 million per year to complete the project over 14 years with 3 percent inflation. It is difficult to see how (INDOT) could afford such a cost." [m]
While announcing the appointment of retired Alcoa executive Thomas A. Sharp as the next head of the Indiana Department of Transportation, in January 2005, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels, reiterated his previous support for the "3C" new terrain route, by telling reporters that the new terrain I-69 extension would be a high priority for his administration. [n]
To generate funding for the planned I-69 extension and to cover a projected $2 billion-plus shortfall in the State's long-term road budget, Governor Daniels proposed privitizing the Indiana Toll Road in northern Indiana in a sweeping initiative known as Major Moves. [o]
In one of the largest monetary and most controversial transactions in the state's history, Daniels negotiated a 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to the privately owned Australian-Spanish consortium, Macquarie-Cintra, for $3.85 billion during September 2005. After contentious debate in the state legislature, the Major Moves bill narrowly passed a vote in the Republican controlled Indiana Senate and House in March 2006, along partisan lines, ratifying the Toll Road sale. Proceeds of the long-term lease were earmarked for the I-69 extension and many of the state's other underfunded road projects.
Opponents of the Major Moves legislation filed a lawsuit in St. Joseph County in late April 2006. Following roughly two weeks of arguments, Judge Michael Scopelitis ruled in favor of the State of Indiana, declaring the lawsuit brought by opponents a "public lawsuit", thus requiring the plaintiffs to post a bond of $1.9 billion for the case to proceed. In response, plaintiffs appealed Scopelitis' ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. In a 4-0 decision, the Court upheld Judge Scopelitis' earlier decision, allowing for the Indiana Toll Road lease to proceed as scheduled. [p]
Meanwhile, in October 2006, another lawsuit was filed by the Hoosier Environmental Council and other opponents of the new-terrain route of I-69 in U.S. District Court, claiming the Indiana Department of Transportation violated several federal laws in the way it selected the direct Evansville-to-Indianapolis new terrain route. The plantiffs had hoped to re-open the process so that the alternative no-terrain route (U.S. 41 to I-70 through Terre Haute) could be reconsidered, but lost the suit when, in a summary judgement, U.S. District Court Judge David Hamilton ruled in favor of the Indiana Department of Transportation and other state and federal officials on December 10, 2007. [q]
To avoid protests, a private invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony, sponsored by Hoosier Voices for I-69, was held on July 16 2008. Gov. Daniels told the crowd of about 500 people, at the Evansville Convention Center, that "starting today, I-69 becomes real....And it’s about time". [r]
The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) which includes the chapters: (1). project history and background; (2). purpose and need; (3). alternatives; (4). affected environment; (5). environmental consequences; (6). comparison of alternatives; (7). mitigation and commitments; (8). section 4(f) evalution; (9). list of preparers; (10). distribution of EIS; (11). comments, coordination, and public involvement; and (12). references for the Indianapolis to Evansville choosen 3C route.
Includes draft environmental impact statements (DEIS) for all six sections of the Indianapolis to Evansville 3C route.
Includes a summary of comments received on the I-69 FEIS; responses to major issues raised on comments; additional 4(f) documentation; air quality conformity findings; and errata for FEIS.
"This report studied an Interstate-type toll road extending from Evansville to the then proposed I-65 near Lafayette, Indiana. Providing a link between Evansville and Indianapolis was not a major consideration of this study. The major impetus was the movement of north-south traffic through western Indiana to link with points to the north such as the Gary-Chicago area. Four alternative alignments were examined in this document. The estimated traffic and toll revenues for the road were based on the amount of traffic that would be diverted from existing routes, normal projected traffic growth, and the amount of traffic generated by the road. By comparing the estimated project costs with projected annual revenues, it was concluded that none of the alternative alignments would be financially feasible as a toll road."
The "Southwest Indiana Highway Feasibility Study" (also known as the "Donohue Study") was a congressionally funded cost/benefit analysis of four potential highway routes through Southwest Indiana, including a new Interstate between Indianapolis and Evansville. The study was conducted for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) by Donohue & Associates. The study concluded that "based on the results of the cost/benefit evaluation, construction was not recommended for any of the four alternatives...This suggests that there may be other projects both inside and outside Southwest Indiana that would represent better investments." (p.12 of the Study)
The Indiana Commerce Connector was a $1.5 billion tollway proposed for the far east-side of Marion County and promoted by Governor Mitch Daniels in November 2006 to help fund the costs of a new terrain I-69 in southwestern Indiana. The ICC tollway was to run through the cities of Pendleton, Greenfield, Shelbyville and Franklin and connect to the planned I-69 extension at Martinsville. Because of widespread opposition the proposal was dropped in late March 2007 by the Governor.
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