Environment and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

EYE ON THE PIE: It is time to accept I-69 and move on

December 25, 2006

I don't want to write this column; you don't want to read it. Yet, I must respond to the diehards who insist that building Interstate 69 (and almost any other road) will be detrimental to our state.

Several economic and environmental studies support the Bloomington-Crane-Washington-Petersburg route to Evansville. Yet, time after time, supporters of the Terre Haute-Sullivan-Vincennes-Princeton route rise up and demand a reconsideration of the path. The Terre Haute crowd is afraid it will lose something if the Bloomington route is built. The idea that the state might gain more from the Bloomington route than Terre Haute might lose seems of no importance in their calculations.

Another set of protestors, living in the Bloomington area, is against I-69 because it means converting some land from its existing uses to transportation and other future-centered functions. The future is not valued as highly by these people as are "natural/existing" uses.

Many of these argue that environmental resources will be destroyed by building the highway. They rank these resources higher in value than the benefits to the people who will use I-69 and those nonusers who also will benefit from the road. Those benefits are not measured in dollars alone. They include shorter commutes, which mean more time with family, faster transportation to medical facilities, greater safety, a wider range of association, and more efficient use of energy.

Residents of Perry Township in Marion County and citizens of Johnson and Morgan counties, plus their elected state representatives, insisted that I-69 should not be a toll road between Martinsville and Indianapolis. This is one major stupidity.

Where will the traffic be the heaviest? Between Martinsville and Indianapolis. Where do fourlane roads already parallel the proposed I-69? Between Martinsville and Indianapolis. Drivers will flock to a tollfree interstate and make I-69 congested and reduce its value for everyone.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has stepped in and abandoned the idea of having I-69 as a toll road. Why? We don't know.

Some argue that we should instead rebuild the rail system we had in the 1920s. Sorry, the automobile is a far superior means of transportation. Most of the people who support mass transit would not ride it even if they had the opportunity. They do not want to wait in the rain, walk significant distances with packages, and be out at night unprotected by steel and a powerful motor.

As for the oil shortage: As the price of oil rises, alternatives will be sought and offered. That's the way the market works. The "peak oil" problem is a crisis we will never see.

In 1970, construction was beginning on four-lane State Road 37. The editor of the Bloomington newspaper wrote against that unnecessary and harmful project. He gave the same arguments we hear now against I-69: The new road will bring more drugs and crime to Bloomington. The new road is not needed (despite the numbers killed on the old road) if folks would just drive more carefully. The new road will destroy Bloomington's retail trade. The new road will ruin the charm of driving between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Once the new road was built and all could see the benefits, he recanted.

Ask those who live along other interstates if their lives today would be better without those roads. I imagine that when those routes were proposed, the opposition was intense. People have adjusted; nature has recovered.

Why does this I-69 controversy continue? Except for the citizens of Evansville, communities are not actively supporting I-69. The leading citizens of Bloomington are not vigorously engaged. Where is Indiana University? Where are Monroe County's political leaders? They are in hiding because they fear the vocal local opposition of a few more than they respect the mute majority.

I hope I don't write about I-69 again until it opens and my youngest granddaughter drives me along it.



Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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