I-69 rejection could affect bus service in Bloomington

Buses in Bloomington and on the Indiana University campus could lose funding starting in 2014 if local officials don't include Interstate 69 in their transportation infrastructure plans.

The current transportation plan, called a TIP, ends in June 2013. The Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization's policy committee voted in May to exclude I-69 construction from a plan covering fiscal years 2012-15, citing concerns about how it will be funded, its environmental impact and the location of interchanges.

State officials say they need the group's backing to spend federal money on a 1.75-mile intended link with Indiana 37 near Bloomington. Republican Sens. Richard Lugar and Dan Coats and seven of Indiana's nine congressmen have urged the group change its mind on the 142-mile Indianapolis-to-Evansville highway, which is estimated to cost nearly $3 billion to build.

"Completion of the I-69 project will enhance Indiana's interstate network by linking all four corners of the state with Indianapolis," they said in a letter to Mayor Mark Kruzan. "The direct route from Evansville to the state capitol will create a corridor that will encourage private sector investment and help create much-needed jobs for our fellow citizens."

The state highway department has asked the group to reconsider its opposition.

If the group votes against including the highway in its transportation plan, the Indiana Department of Transportation will withhold federal funding not just for local highway projects, but also for local transit systems including Bloomington Transit, Rural Transit and the IU Campus Bus system, starting in 2014, The Herald-Times reported.

Kent McDaniel, who represents the Bloomington Transit board of directors on the policy committee, said the entire county would be affected if the state rejects the local transportation infrastructure plan that covers 2014 and 2015. County transportation services stand to lose nearly $30 million in federal funding for those years.

McDaniel said that would mean no new federal money to replace buses, expand the bus garage or address other future needs.

"Saying 'no' to federal funding is, I would say, crippling to public transit," said Richard Martin, chairman of the panel's I-69 subcommittee.

I-69 opponent Tom Tokarski said he isn't sure federal funding cuts for local transit would happen.

Tokarski noted Gov. Mitch Daniels will be out of office and a new administration will be making transportation spending decisions before the federal cutoff would occur.

Opponent Mark Stoops agreed.

"Any incoming governor is going to look at the price of running I-69 from Bloomington to Indy and consider, 'Would that be a good investment?'" Stoops said.

Stoops said losing federal transportation funds would be a short-term challenge, but I-69 would be "here forever."

"I think the consequences of cuts to short-term funding because we do not approve I-69 are less than long-term costs of having I-69 in Monroe County," Stoops said. "I can't imagine that any future governor is going to want to pursue I-69, knowing the costs and difficulty."

Policy Committee President Jack Baker, however, said he is resigned that I-69 will be completed.

"I don't want it, I don't like it, but I think it is inevitable," he said.

The panel is scheduled to take up the issue again Nov. 4.

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