Opponents of Indiana's nearly $3 billion Interstate 69 extension are urging a southern Indiana planning board to keep the highway out of its transportation plan despite the state's warning that doing so could endanger federal funding for local projects.
In May, a committee of the Bloomington Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization approved a revised local highway plan that omitted Monroe County's portion of I-69, citing concerns about how it will be funded, its environmental impact and the location of interchanges.
The Indiana Department of Transportation has asked the panel to add this section of I-69 back in and resubmit its plan.
With the planning group scheduled to meet again Friday, opponents of the 142-mile Evansville-to-Indianapolis highway are pressing the panel to hold firm and keep I-69 out of the plan.
Monroe County Council member Sam Allison and other highway opponents are also urging county residents to attend the meeting and speak out against adding the highway back into the plan.
"I can't see what it is about 'no' that INDOT does not understand. I invite the citizens to attend the meeting and tell INDOT, once again, and hopefully for the last time, 'no' to I-69," Allison said in a statement released this week by two groups opposed to the highway.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the Monroe County group's existing transportation improvement plan runs through 2013 and includes the highway. He said a new plan that would cover the period through 2015 needs to be approved before the current plan lapses.
Failure to do so, Wingfield said, could potentially affect federal capital funding for transportation projects in the county.
"We hope that we can work cooperatively with them to adopt a transportation plan that both the state and the MPO find acceptable," he said.
Last year, the policy panel also left I-69 off of its plan but reconsidered and included it after the state told local officials that doing so would risk losing funding for other highway projects.
An environmental group that opposes the highway extension released a report last month warning that the project will siphon hundreds of millions of dollars away from other road and bridge projects in coming years.
The Hoosier Environmental Council's report concludes that the highway's nearly $3 billion estimated cost will consume one-fifth of funding available for state highway construction and maintenance projects between 2012 and 2014.
In 2013 alone, nearly 30 percent of Indiana's highway funds will go toward I-69, leaving many projects across the rest of the state stuck in "shovel ready" mode, said Tim Maloney, the council's senior policy director.