Indiana's transportation commissioner has rejected Monroe County's proposed transportation plan because it excludes the Bloomington-area section of the contentious Interstate 69 expansion that the state is building over local opposition.
Commissioner Michael Cline sent a letter Wednesday to the chairman of the policy committee of the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization, rejecting the local plan submitted in May and asking the panel to revise and resubmit the plan with the I-69 section included.
It marked the latest turn in the battle of wills over the $3 billion highway that would connect Indianapolis and Evansville. Environmentalists and other opponents have argued the highway isn't needed, and landowners recently filed papers saying they were preparing to sue INDOT and the Federal Highway Administration over lingering concerns.
"Our objective is a transportation plan that BMCMPO and INDOT can agree upon and the inclusion of I-69 is an integral part of such a plan," Cline said in the letter published Saturday by The Herald-Times on its website.
The planning group's policy committee in mid-May approved a draft Transportation Improvement Program for fiscal years 2012-15 that did not include Section 4 of I-69 in Monroe County. Without local support for I-69, federal funding for the project could be threatened, the newspaper reported.
The policy panel also left Section 4 off last year's plan but reconsidered and included it after being threatened with the loss of funding for other highway projects.
Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, who sits on the MPO policy committee, said it was clear from the tone of the letter that INDOT would threaten to withhold money again if Section 4 was omitted.
"It leaves no room for compromise while claiming to want compromise," Kruzan said.
Indiana highway officials had said earlier in the week they hoped to begin building Section 4 by the end of this year and open it to traffic by the end of 2014.
Gov. Mitch Daniels on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to building I-69 through Monroe County and Bloomington.
"I am so pleased to see things coming together on this project and we'll see it through in Bloomington, whether they like it or not," Daniels said at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center southwest of Bloomington, the Washington Times-Herald reported.