Daniels says I-69 ahead of schedule, but critics wary

The Interstate 69 extension between Evansville and Bloomington is on budget and should open years ahead of schedule in 2014,
Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday. But critics said it's being built below normal standards and will need repairs ahead
of schedule.

Daniels said the Federal Highway Administration recently approved environmental studies for the third of the highway's
six sections, giving the state the go-ahead to build the southernmost 68 miles of the 142-mile freeway that will connect Evansville
and Indianapolis. He said that stretch would be built by the end of 2012, three years ahead of schedule.

Only the southernmost two miles just north of Evansville are open to traffic now.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will release a draft of the environmental impact statement for the next 27-mile
section, from Crane to Bloomington, by July 3, Daniels said. He said construction on that section could begin next summer.

"Completion to Bloomington will be years ahead of what anyone originally thought could be accomplished," Daniels
said in a statement.

That prediction is "optimistic," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington. Pierce said residents of the left-leaning
Bloomington area will vigorously question INDOT's environmental data, forcing the agency to do more analysis and slow
the pace of construction.

Inflation and other cost factors have caused the price of the 142-mile extension to climb to $3.1 billion from an original
estimate of $1.7 billion when Indiana lobbied the federal government for approval in 2003.

However, Daniels said estimates that the first 68 miles to Crane could be built for about $700 million have remained on
target. Daniels took office in 2005.

Daniels a year ago said the state could save money by narrowing the highway's median or using a thinner layer of pavement
for the initial construction. His announcement Wednesday said INDOT had used "innovative techniques to design and build
the road."

Pierce said the administration's upfront cost savings will result in higher maintenance down the road.

"It looks like he's going to build a substandard road and leave it to future administrations to fix it when it
falls apart earlier than it should," Pierce said.

Pierce and another opponent of the project, Tom Tokarski of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, also predicted that construction
costs would rise once the economy recovers.

"Talk is cheap and I-69 is not," Tokarski said. "Where is the money going to come from and which projects
around the state are going to be cut?"

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