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Interstate 69 opponents target another section of project

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Two environmental groups have filed a second lawsuit in federal court in an ongoing battle to halt construction of Interstate 69 in southern Indiana.

The Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, or CARR, allege in a lawsuit filed late last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the federal Clean Water Act in issuing a permit for construction of 29 miles of I-69 between Oakland City and Washington, known as Section 2.

The suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana is similar to one the groups filed in February regarding the Corps’ permitting of Section 3, a 26-mile segment between Washington and Crane.

The new case involves a permit the Corps issued allowing 644,802 cubic yards of fill in wetlands in Pike and Daviess Counties, including the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife management area.

The fill would consist of earth, riprap and concrete as part of a 25-foot-high causeway stretching 2.5 miles. It would connect a White River bridge and two bridges over tributaries.

“This causeway will act as a virtual dam across the river, raising flood levels up to a foot higher than current levels on about 5,900 acres of floodplain land,” including “a lot of good farmland and Indiana bat habitat,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of HEC.

The group in April filed an appeal of a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources involving the section. The appeal is still in the discovery stage.

HEC and CARR assert in the Oct. 14 suit that engineers are required by the Clean Water Act to find practicable alternatives to proposed discharges that would have fewer adverse impacts on aquatic life.

The Corps has not yet filed a response to the latest suit. It denied allegations made by the groups in the similar suit filed last February involving Section 3 of I-69.

The environmental groups seek an injunction stopping Section 2 and the rest of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis I-69 project “until the defendants fully comply with the requirements” of the Clean Water Act.

The groups for years have complained the currently planned I-69 route crosses some of the most environmentally sensitive parts of the state. They prefer a slightly longer route for I-69 consisting of upgrades to I-70 in western Indiana and conversion to interstate standards for the connecting U.S. 41, which runs south to Evansville.

At this point, only 1.8 miles of the proposed 142-mile “new terrain” I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville is open for traffic. The tiny stretch links I-64, north of Evansville, to State Road 68, to the north.

Currently, 63 miles of I-69 are under construction in southern Indiana, said Indiana Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cher Goodwin.

Goodwin said the agency declined comment about the latest lawsuit filed by HEC and CARR.

“We are confident that INDOT has followed every law,” she said.

The Indianapolis-to-Evansville extension of I-69 has been a top priority of Gov. Mitch Daniels as achieving the optimal time savings for those traveling to southwestern Indiana—perhaps shaving 30 minutes from what is typically a 3.5-hour to 4-hour drive.

Opponents argue it will have adverse environmental effects on a corridor involving more than 7,000 acres of land, including 4,300 acres of farmland, and on 450 karst features such as caves and underground streams.

INDOT has said it’s on track to build the stretch between Evansville and Crane for about $700 million. It points to tweaks in design that slashed costs, and success securing lower material and labor costs during the slow economy.

But there doesn’t appear to be enough money to build the highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington. Total cost of the entire project could exceed $3 billion, a price tag critics say will siphon unacceptable amounts of money from existing state road maintenance and building budgets.
 

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  • RT 41 - NO
    I have flown down Rt 41 from Terre Haute to Evansville. You can also go on Google Earth and see this - there are farms, houses, and businesses built along 41 whose only access is onto Rt 41. To convert that to a limited access interstate level highway would require eliminating most of these houses and businesses. For farmland access along Rt 41, right of way would be required to build access roads. Each town would need to have an interstate level bypass built around it. Not to mention that construction on an active highway, while maitaining traffic doubles or triples the cost of construction. If you really look at this alignment from the air, it is a non-starter.
  • Grasping at straws?
    It sounds like the plaintiffs are just trying to derail this project anyway they can costing the rest of us lots of money to defend the project that will save lots of money in the long run and generate much needed private sector jobs at least in the short term. They could just suggest that the "causeway" approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers be changed to an elevated roadway so as to not raise the potential flood waters “one foot higher than current levels on 5900 acres of flood plain land” during a 25, 50 or maybe 100 year type flood event. And just how much more is that from “current levels”? They already identify it as floodplain land. When you own or buy land in a flood plain, you have to expect it will flood on occasion. That is why it is called a flood plain!
    Plus, they certainly play down the potential benefits of the new route in the article. Google maps list the current HEC/CARR preferred path of I-70 West & US 41 South as 183 miles and 3 hours and 21 minutes. The new Interstate route is 142 miles so simple math shows a reduction of 41 miles, or over 22 percent of the total distance. To use your parlance, one could say it would shave nearly 25 percent off the trip in distance instead of “perhaps shaving 30 minutes from what is typically a 3.5-hour to 4-hour drive”. Think of the fuel savings of driving 25% less, not to mention 25% less emissions for all the cars travelling that route. Are these environmental groups against lowering emissions and using less fuel? It would also reduce congestion along I-70 that would likely reduce the number of accidents along that route while no doubt adding some to the new route.
    All in all, it sounds like a better defense at this point would be to attack the HEC and CARR groups with some frivolous law suits so they can reallocate their resources for defending themselves for a change and perhaps saving Indiana taxpayers some money in the process.
  • Not Mitch
    It's not Mitch... It's the US Government. I69 will eventually reach from Mexico to Canada (look it up). Mitch is just one of the many pawns in charge of making sure the project happens.
  • get it right!
    It's Daviess County. You don't even care enough about who you're stepping on to get the name right! Pitiful.
  • Good effort
    I appreciate your efforts, and so many others will never know the benefit lost, but what Mitch wants he gets and his adoring followers push on us. It is unfortunate that a little television humbleness and a few lies about our state gained so much approval from hoosiers.

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    1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

    2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

    3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

    4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

    5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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