The idea for an Evansville to Bloomington Highway was born
in the kitchen of David Graham in a breakfast meeting with Jim Newland,
it was claimed by David Graham at an early EIS public comment meeting
for an earlier INDOT study for this connection of the these two
Indiana midsize cities. Newland, took the show on the road...
or should we say, "took the road on the show."
'We found out quickly that Congress wasn't
interested in a 175-mile highway connecting one town to another,'
explained Jim Newland, head of the I-69 coalition. 'The only way to get
national attention was to create a coalition of states."
Strawberry: April 1997 - NAFTA Superhighways Threaten North
I couldn't think of a more disastrous project if I had to
think all year,' exclaimed Randy Ghent of the Alliance for a Paving
Indeed, politicians and large corporate interests are
threatening North America with a scale of highway development
unprecedented since the 1970s, all under the guise of 'free' trade.
Pushing several 'NAFTA Superhighways' from Canada to Mexico, these
special interests hope to boost large amounts of long-distance truck
traffic they hope will result from the North American Free Trade
Agreement. Or at least that is their excuse for building more highways
after the U.S. Interstate Highway System has been declared 'complete.'
'No politician ever had a maintenance program named after
him,' asserted public works expert Roy Kienitz.
The NAFTA Superhighway scheme would add to air pollution,
traffic congestion, oil dependence, global warming, roadkill and human
death. Local economics and quality of life would suffer, as development
moves from town centers to narrow strips along the highway.
Many realize that NAFTA affecting the U.S., Canada and
Mexico has caused a corporate exodus to the south, robbing the U.S. of
over 600,000 jobs. But this new, lesser-known NAFTA-related scheme
could possibly be even more disastrous than the trade agreement itself.
Yet the media outside Indiana have generally steered clear of this
The I-69 Boondoggle: A Corporate Hoax
'Small, independent farmers need help, not road blocks,'
testified southern Indiana farmer Gary Seibert. 'That is what the I-69
extension will be, a great dam that splits up our farms and separates
our communities. We have a name for it when you take our homes, our
farms, our natural resources, and our way of life and promise us
pie-in-the-sky in return. It's called rural exploitation. We've heard
it all before and we decline your offer.'
Of the various proposed routes, the extension of Interstate
69 would be the most damaging and costly NAFTA Superhighway. The I-69
presently extends from Flint, Mich., to Indianapolis. But as a
superhighway it would plow through farmlands, forests, and hundreds of
communities in eight states plus Canada and Mexico.
Regardless of the environmental impacts, 'two words really
determine the future of this highway,' noted Alexander Ewing of the
Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. 'One is finances and
the other is politics.'
Backers of the I-69 extension, now known as the Midcontinent
Highway Coalition, originally just wanted a leg from Indianapolis to
Evansville. 'We found out quickly that Congress wasn't interested in a
175-mile highway connecting one town to another,' explained Jim
Newland, head of the I-69 coalition. 'The only way to get national
attention was to create a coalition of states. That's how the I-69 idea
grew beyond Evansville to Paducah, Ky., and Memphis, then to
Shreveport, Houston and Laredo.'
Of course if additional large amounts of long-distance trade
were necessary, rail would be approximately eight times more efficient
than trucks, according to research conducted at the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory. However, supporting local small business is much more
environmentally and socially responsible than buying goods from
corporations abroad via rail or truck.
In southern Indiana alone, over 200 farms
would be bisected by the I-69 NAFTA Superhighway÷including nine
Amish farms. Over 1,000 acres of forests would be destroyed for the
Indianapolis-Evansville right-of-way alone.
'Free' Trade: A Bad Deal for Everyone
All significant monetary contributions to the Midcontinent
Highway Coalition were donated by special-interest corporations. And
all of the advantages to highway expansion and new highways are
corporate advantages. For example, local small businesses give way to
shopping malls and corporate chains such as McDonalds and Wal-Mart.
Local agriculture also suffers.
The case of a common food product, tomatoes, unfortunately
shows the reality of NAFTA in action. Between 1993 and 1995,
NAFTA-induced U.S.-Mexico trade caused prices paid to Florida tomato
farmers to drop 22 percent. Meanwhile, the retail price on tomatoes
rose 3 percent. The difference amounts to a 25 percent profit reaped by
transnational corporations, rather than being passed on to the consumer.
'Indeed, the "great sucking sound' that was so feared during
the negotiations for the passage of NAFTA in late 1993 is being heard
and cheered today,' claimed the Dallas-based NAFTA Superhighway
Coalition in what was intended to be a pro-highway article. 'For it is
the sound of corporate America gravitating toward this international
trade corridor. It is the surge of products moving to market and the
sound of money filling corporate coffers... It is the free enterprise
system at work.'
Corporations Lobby for I-69
I-69 supporters, led by Rep. Bud Shuster (R., Pa.), chair of
the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are guzzling
contributions from donors along the proposed route, government records
show. Texas is Shuster's biggest donor state after Pennsylvania. In
fact, 62 of Shuster's 77 biggest Texas contributors are located along
the proposed I-69 corridors in Texas.
Majority Whip Tom Delay has also been a major NAFTA
Superhighway supporter. As a senior member of the Appropriations
Subcommittee, he doles out federal highway money. His brother, Randy, a
$300,000 per year highway lobbyist for the I-69, helped organize Texas
fund raisers for Shuster.
Corporations that donated
include Williams Brothers Construction, which is already doing $100
million of work on Houston highways; J & S Consulting Engineers,
specialists in highway design; S & B Infrastructure Limited,
designers of bridges; the Ayrshare Corporation and George Mitchell,
John Caruthers is a retired oilman from Shreveport. One
afternoon back in 1991, he was entertaining some visitors from Indiana.
During their conversation, the subject came up about an Interstate
route that would connect Toronto to Mexico City. Caruthers then moved
over to a small map of the United States. Taking out a black magic
marker, hedrew a line connecting Indianapolis, Memphis, Shreveport and
Houston. This was the first drawing of the “NAFTA Highway,” or I-69.
Now, dozens of congressional committees and millions of
dollars in exploratory research later, I-69 is on the fast track.
According to the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG),
the price tag for the Louisiana portion is somewhere near $980
million, with Louisiana paying for about $150 million of the cost.
In Baton Rouge, support is strong. Legislators understand
that an intercontinental highway through Louisiana (in addition to the
completion of I-49 North) would be a tremendous boost for its already
expansive port system.
In Washington, support for the project is also high.
According to Kent Rogers of NLCOG, the legislation granting the
development of I-69 has Shreveport included in the bill. However,
legislation begets legislation. In 2003, Congress will finalize
its National Highway Reauthorization Bill. This will be the final
hurdle towards getting the Interstate built.
Corridor to the Future
Unfortunately, building a road like this involves a few more
steps than drawing lines on a map and laying concrete. First, a
corridor, or broad outline of the route must be approved. Next,
extensive environmental studies of the area must take place. Rogers
says that is the stage I-69 is in right now. Currently, seven possible
corridors are considered for the 35-mile stretch between I-20 and U.S.
Hwy. 171 in Stonewall, La. Experts expect “Corridor E” to win out
because it satisfies several criteria developers find important:
- It is relatively close to Barksdale Air Force Base
- It hugs the Shreveport-Bossier Metro Area
- It goes near the new port development south of town
- It avoids Wallace Lake
- And it reaches Stonewall on the north side, closest to
(to view the different corridors, click to see the map).
Skeptics who view a map of the I-69 corridor may scratch
their heads, wondering why anyone would want to build a road as large
as this through a relatively rural area. According to Rogers, the
corridor locations were the most obvious choice, being that there was
really nowhere to build inside of Shreveport. He also mentions the
Interloop phenomenon, which occurred in cities like Houston and Dallas.
In these cities, he says, outlying expressways allowed for expansion
that wouldn’t have been possible if they had been built closer to the
Building farther away also has other advantages. One is that
the area south of Shreveport is extremely sparse. So sparse in fact,
that of the 200-plus square miles of corridors studied, there are only
three separate apartment complexes. What’s more, once one of the
mile-wide corridors is selected, planners will then choose a 300-foot
span within that area to build the road. Therefore, only a
fraction, if any, of the homes may actually be displaced.
Tim Smith, who is leading the environmental study for the
I-20-to-171 corridor, says that most of the people he’s encountered
during the study have been receptive. “Most of the time they’re just
curious,” he says. He also feels that his goal in the study is damage
control—picking a route that will disrupt the surrounding area the
least. “One of our goals is to not divide property lines if we can…
This project is a lot easier than some of the other projects we’ve
done. With those, you were talking about going into heavily populated
areas and displacing entire neighborhoods.”
Good for Business
Experts also feel that the I-69 needs to intersect the new
port south of Shreveport. This would help maximize the shipping and
commerce potential of I-69. Rogers says the port will play a major part
in the area’s future as a commerce leader. In this one area,
distributors will have sea, land, air, and rail capability (Union
Pacific has plans to redirect their lines to intersect with the port).
“[NLCOG] went to a national commerce meeting last year,” Rogers
recalls. “And when we told them we were from Shreveport, they told us,
‘You guys are it.’ We’re talking one-day shipping to anywhere in the
Rogers also claims that several businesses, especially from
California, have shown interest in coming to the state once the
proposed infrastructure is in place. “One would then be a part of
direct international trade, connecting the Midwest and Canada to
shipping in Latin America. And with the completion of the northern I-49
extension, the community will fall into a small and exclusive group:one
of only six cities in the U.S. with three intercontinental highways
(the third is I-20).
The Twin Sister: I-49
Experts, however, insist that I-49 is really the project to
watch for now. For one, development on the north extension is further
along in development. Whereas I-69 is still conducting environmental
research studies, Bremer says I-49 is now ready to break ground—with
adequate funding, of course.
What’s more, the I-49 extension is much more favorable to
the entire state. I-69, which hugs a small route in the northeast
corner, has many people from southern Louisiana feeling left out. Yet
I-49, with the addition of the southern corridor connecting Lafayette
to New Orleans, allows a much larger part of the state to get in on the
action. According to Bremer, “When we’re promoting the completion of
I-49 North, it’s not only to benefit Northwest Louisiana, but it can
also benefit the entire state of Louisiana with all that trade going
out from the Port of New Orleans.”
The Road from Here
Interstate projects are slow-moving beasts, and it may be
years before any of us can make that straight shot from Shreveport to
the Windy City. Funny though, that there appears to be such a sense of
immediacy to all the parties working on this project. The biggest sense
of worry comes from the I-49 extension, which according to Bremer is
“ours to lose.” It works like this: if Louisiana cannot come up with
adequate funding--or the necessary legislation--to complete the I-49
extension, then Texas could upgrade their existing Hwy. 59 at
Texarkana. If this happens, then all commerce from I-49 North goes to
Houston and Louisiana loses out.
The game plan for now is to win support for both I-69 and
the I-49 North extension in both the Louisiana legislature and
Washington. In 2003, Congress will renew its Highway
Reauthorization Bill. It is here, experts say, that the fate of I-49
and 69 will be decided. Many believe that support is
strong and both projects will pass. Experts in Shreveport and
representatives in Baton Rouge say that I-69 and I-49 are high
priority. The U.S. Department of Transportation listed the I-49 North
corridor as its number one priority last November (click
to see site). Bremer says that the local funding for I-49 is in
place; all they need is the go-ahead from Washington and Baton Rouge.
I-69 also has support, primarily from the large coalition of
states in Washington that it will pass through. Because you’ve got so
many states involved,” says Bremer, “you’ve got more impact with all
the various state representatives and state senators.”
Yet none of this may have happened had it not been for Jim
Caruthers. Though he may not have been a lawmaker or politician,
Caruthers was able to spearhead an international construction project.
Despite this accomplishment, however Caruthers remains humble. "This
project has been the result of a lot of good, hardworking people in
both the Shreveport community and all across the country." National
coalitions, billions of dollars and a magic marker.
I-69: THE PEOPLE AFFECTED
Route critics question tax dollars for group Coalition that
backed path chosen for highway had received $157,000 from state and
John McCall, 80, and his wife of 58 years, Anna Marie,
hold a photo of McCall's father, John Austin McCall, around the age of
18 and grandmother Mary Charlotte McCall. McCall's family has farmed in
southwest Indiana's Daviess County since 1867, but changes are coming:
The I-69 extension is slated to divide his 440-acre farm, where he
grows wheat, soybeans and
his prize crop, corn. -- Matt Detrich / The Star
By Jason Thomas
April 10, 2004
The route approved last week for the I-69 extension is the
same one that has been backed for years by a nonprofit group that
received more than $150,000 in taxpayer money.
Opponents of the route, which will connect Indianapolis and Evansville,
think the situation shows officials had, in essence, already chosen the
route that cuts through farmland and undeveloped property.
"To me it shows this whole process was rigged," said Andy Knott, air
and energy policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. "I
think we have to go back and look at how can this process be objective,
when the same government doing the study is giving taxpayer money to
lobbyists who are pushing for this route. It can't be an objective
James G. Newland, longtime friend of the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon and
executive director of the I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition, said
receiving tax dollars does not show the choice of a route was
preordained. The state and local officials involved in sending him the
money agree. "We did get some funding from the Department of Commerce
during those years," Newland said. "I saw nothing wrong with that. I
solicited their help in trying to get this done. It was for the route
that would finally be decided by the state."
The I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition was incorporated in 1993 after
a meeting between a handful of transportation heavyweights representing
seven states, from Indiana to Texas. I-69 eventually will pass through
each of those states, stretching from Canada to Mexico.
As early as 1999, Newland wrote editorial pieces advocating the
"straight-line" route, the same route eventually chosen by O'Bannon and
approved by the feds. "We felt it was proper as citizens of this state
to express our opinion on where it ought to go, and we did," Newland
said. "We're taxpayers, too, you know."
Newland and O'Bannon shared a similar vision for I-69. "I met with
Frank shortly before he died," Newland said. "He told me then, 'Look,
this road simply has to serve Bloomington. It has to serve the Crane
naval base and on down to Evansville.' "
From 1996 to 2001, the coalition received $97,000 in grants -- taxpayer
money -- from the Indiana Department of Commerce. In addition, from
2000 to 2003, the city of Indianapolis paid the coalition a total of
$60,000 to inform city officials of the latest developments concerning
I-69. Tim Monger, executive director of the Department of Commerce,
defends the funding, saying that what began as an initiative to study
an I-69 extension naturally evolved into a tighter focus. "When you
look at the time the coalition came to the Department of Commerce, it
was a multistate initiative simply advocating and pushing for the
establishment of I-69, period," he said. "As time goes by, you have to
narrow the focus down to a specific location. Otherwise, it would
probably never get built. I really think of (the coalition) as a
grass-roots coalition. Having been involved in economic development
over the years, one thing you want to do is have grass-roots
involvement to let the legislators know what the preference is."
Knott would disagree... "Not with our
tax dollars," he said. "That's the scandal in this thing -- that our
money went to someone who was advocating one side of this thing."
That distinction isn't lost on 80-year-old John McCall. Since 1867, his
family has farmed in Daviess County. And now his 440-acre farm will be
sliced in two by I-69. "I'm all for progress," McCall said, "but the
way (the state) is going about this stinks. They have a very
high-handed attitude that the people down in southwest Indiana are a
bunch of peons that hardly know how to make their way to the bathroom."
Newland insists his coalition took an objective approach. "We supported
the studies that were made that determined this," he said. "If the
studies that had been made had recommended another route, then we would
have supported that. "Every study that I have seen tells me the same
thing -- this is the route that must be taken to solve Indiana's
transportation problem." One of those alternate routes was to use I-70
and U.S. 41, a choice touted by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce
because it would take the highway through Terre Haute. But in the
mid-1990s, after meeting with Newland, the chamber was dissuaded from
seeking funding from the Department of Commerce to advocate the I-70
Rod Henry, president of Terre Haute's chamber, said funding was not
possible because the chamber was advocating a particular route. "Mr.
Newland was very much in the opinion that there was only one route,
Henry said. "Basically, he said the coalition was only looking at one
route and advocating one route. "The route was ordained years and years
What the coalition has to show for the money also is in question. The
coalition's grant agreement with the state stipulated that it was
required to submit a quarterly progress report. A public records search
revealed one report was an environmental study performed by HNTB Corp.,
an architectural and engineering firm.
Also in the public documents was a letter sent to the U.S. Department
of Transportation and a speech given to the coalition board of
directors by its congressional consultant -- all labeled as quarterly
reports. "It costs money to operate a coalition," Newland said.
"There's travel, studies, all the other work."
The city also signed a similar agreement with the coalition. "We
presume all the agreements we enter into are worthwhile or we would
terminate them at some point," said Jim Garrard, director of the city's
Department of Public Works. "We got benefit out of it, or we wouldn't
have kept the contract."
Garrard said the department received "a stack of materials" from the
coalition, but that it never advocated one route. But public documents
show the coalition provided only its own newsletters and clippings from
J. Bryan Nicol, commissioner of the Indiana Department of
Transportation, said equal weight has been given to both sides of the
issue. The coalition's comment "was given equal weight with every other
comment we received. We did not give any one comment preference over
any other. "Our job has been to conduct a fair and objective study, and
we believe that our study has been legally sound and has taken into
account all opinions."
As the opinions continue, the approach toward building I-69 will long
be the subject of debate.
"From the days of the Founding Fathers, there's been a question of
whether citizens should be compelled to furnish funds for causes they
disagree with," said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers
Union, a nonpartisan citizens group. "Unfortunately, the answer seems
to be, 'Well, grin and bear it and get out your wallet.' "That's not a
satisfactory answer to most taxpayers. Folks on both sides of the I-69
question ought to be able to agree the political aspects should be
funded by private pockets and not the public purse."
Call Star reporter Jason Thomas at (317) 444-2708.
From the COUNT US! LINKS page:
Investigation into Possible Violations of Standards of Congressional
Conduct by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay
Jones" details DeLay and I-69 "scandal".
"Again, what the statement did not mention is that Randy
DeLay lobbied heavily for I-69 and receives at least $15,000 per month
from pro-I-69 interests, including Pharr Economic Development
Corporation and the I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition."
Jim Newland, former head of of I-69
Mid-Continent Highway Coalition
Joyce Newland, Transportation Planner, FHWA
Mark Newland, Program Director for Intelligent Transportation System,
Jim Newland, former head of the I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition,
is the father of Mark Newland Program Director for Intelligent
TransportationSystem, INDOT who is the husband of Joyce Newland,
Transportation Planner, FHWA.
Now when you consider that Jim Newland, former head of of
I-69 Mid-Continent Highway Coalition, hires as their consultant Randy
DeLay for $380,000 and he is the brother of Congressman Tom DeLay who
as Majority Whip gets the I-69 legislation enacted, and that Joyce
Newland is now the FHA representative spearheading this project along
with her husband Mark Newland... We think, no truth to the rumor that
the Newlands and DeLays might be cousins.
learn to adapt to 'big mess' "It is just a big mess," ... "It's
gotten really bad. Going from Interstate 69 to I-465 takes forever."
And Indiana wants to spend 3 billion dollars to share this intersection
internationally. Another study proposed.
Perhaps related, check out the federal projections for freight route needs in
Sue EPA Over Houston's Weak Air Pollution Plan
Study lost Karst in formation and used less truthful data.
FEIS Comments: Karst Report
Munson, Frushour, Peterson, Munson
crucial information from Final EIS for I-69
- February 29, 2004
According to the results of a new analysis by several
released today, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and
their consultants, Bernardin-Lochmueller and Associates (BLA), have
excluded data on karst features within and near their preferred 3C
alignment in Monroe and Greene counties.
Although this information was known to INDOT and BLA, based
own study, it was withheld from the draft Environmental Impact
Statement (DEIS) and the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)
for the proposed I-69 extension.
Karst features (described in more detail below) include
sinkholes, and pose extra risks and costs to highway construction.
Highway opponents pointed to the exclusion of these geologic features
in INDOT's analysis as evidence that the full cost of the proposed
new-terrain I-69 route have not been taken into account.
In the spring of 1994 BLA conducted an intensive,
of karst features in the study areas for I-69 that in two cases either
straddle or fall entirely within the present corridor of the proposed
Alternative 3C. (See: Karst Features In The Bloomington To Evansville
Highway. Report Number FHWA-IND-EIS-92-1-D, Project No. HDP 9222
(0001)). This study recorded large numbers of karst features that were
evaluated as significant or potentially significant. There is neither
reference to this study nor any indications that the data and
recommendations that resulted from it were included in either the
current FEIS or the preliminary DEIS. Instead, an inappropriate map
that shows far fewer karst impacts was used in INDOT's current studies.
In comments submitted to INDOT, BLA and EPA by professional
scientists and archaeologists Patrick Munson, Staffan Peterson, Sam
Frushour, and Cheryl Munson, INDOT's earlier karst analysis figures
have been over-laid with the Alternative 3C Corridor and Working
Alignment and FEIS Sinkhole Areas. Both the Corridor and Alignment
intersect many of the karst features that were known by INDOT and BLA
to exist in 1994 but were excluded from the FEIS. This new analysis is
attached and can be found at: http://www.i69tour.org (go to "FEIS comments").
Karstic features form in carbonate rocks (usually
surface expressions include sinkholes, swallow holes, karren, caves,
solution shafts (pit caves), and springs. Such features are indicators
that the subsurface integrity of the bedrock has been compromised by
solution along fractures and that, in the case of sinkholes, soil is
sapping into the resulting voids. The presence of subsurface conduits,
solutions shafts, caves or other voids presents unique construction
problems. Even in limestone areas where no obvious surface karstic
features currently exist, collapse of soil bridges into voids, due to
construction, will compromise fills or structures unless costly
remediation is undertaken. Pre-existing sinkholes require costly
excavation to bedrock and concrete bridging to prevent future
subsistence. (See Pat Munson, et. al., analysis)
Highway construction in karst areas is problematic for
other reasons. Most significantly, contamination from construction and
from highway run-off can pollute ground water. Alteration of drainage
patterns can cause localized flooding. Also, highway construction
through karst areas is significantly more expensive than through
non-karst areas. Since karst features are not completely characterized,
construction can be delayed and contribute to significant cost
"The exclusion of this data is a deliberate attempt to
and misinform agencies and the public about the costs and impacts of
building an interstate highway through the highly sensitive karst areas
in Monroe and Greene Counties," said Pat Munson, professional
archaeologist and co-author of the study reviewing INDOT's karst
"We call upon the Federal Highway Administration to withhold
the Record Of Decision until this karst information is properly
evaluated and the true and complete costs and impacts of the 3C route
for I-69 are known," said Thomas Tokarski, CARR president.
INDOT gave citizens and agencies a minimal amount of time to
review their massive FEIS document. This may have been done in order to
hide critical information. It raises the valid question of what other
information was excluded in order to avoid public knowledge of problems
with INDOT's preferred 3C route.
Significantly, the US41 and I-70 alternative would have no
karst impacts. INDOT could upgrade U.S. 41 more quickly and for far
less money than an all-new I-69, and improve the roads between
Evansville and Indianapolis. INDOT and Governor Kernan have insisted on
an environmentally and economically destructive choice for southwest
Indiana. In 2002, 94% of Hoosiers who submitted comments to the Indiana
Department of Transportation opposed INDOT's "new-terrain" routes for
Professional archaeologist, co-author, karst study
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
Hoosier Environmental Council
Reprinted from the Bloomington Alternative
CIVITAS: When the means are the ends
By Gregory Travis
It's probably impudent beyond imagination but CIVITAS has to
disagree with our gracious publisher and host over last week's piece
entitled "It's about NAFTA, not NIMBY." In that piece, Bloomington
Alternative editor and publisher Steven Higgs wrote an open letter
to National Public Radio's Steven Inskeep regarding the latter's
coverage of the national I-69 imbroglio.
In particular, Higgs sought to correct the perception that
Inskeep's coverage might have left in the public's mind, namely of an
over-simplified battle between the road builders and a small group of
dedicated landowners fighting to keep their homes.
Higgs argued persuasively and accurately that I-69 is more
than just "home town news" from a marginal Midwestern state (albeit a
state and place for whom CIVITAS conducts this weekly labor of love)
and we strongly agree. But he also argued that I-69 has a national
dimension, a dimension which has spilled on the national stage over the
past decade in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), and that that dimension is the more important of the two. And
that's where we disagree.
A political answer in search of a public
Like all of the flimsy justifications put up for it over the
years, I-69 has never been about NAFTA any more than it's been about an
"education highway," a "jobs engine," a talisman of "safety" or any of
the manifold excuses thrown out by its proponents over the years. Since
1970, when the idea of an Evansville-to-Indy superhighway was first
floated (and rejected), there's been an excuse-du-jour for
every interminable highway resurrection-to-wooden-stake cycle.
In 1990, a wooden stake by the name of the Donohue study
concluded that the highway was not economically justifiable. In doing
so, it drove the highway down once again, but not for long. The
highway's minions began resurrecting it in 1994 with the incantation
that it would be a "NAFTA superhighway" and soon the vampire was again
out of the crypt.
In 1997, the Christian Science Monitor picked up on
I-69's resurrection and noted that the vampire this time seemed
different from its earlier incarnations. The Monitor couldn't
quite figure out how a failed regional plan was suddenly getting steam
as a much more ambitious national plan. In Does the US Need a
'Superroad?' (7/16/97) the Monitor's Mark Clayton asked "[H]ow
did [I-69] grow so long when the original plan was to build an I-69
extension between Indianapolis and Evansville?"
Clayton found his answer in the disarmingly candid retort of
James Newland, then the executive director of something called the
Mid-Continent Highway Coalition -- an amalgamation of trucking,
construction, and finance interests slobbering at the public trough.
Newland's answer, as taken from an October 1996 interview in the Philadelphia
Inquirer, was as pragmatic as it was cynical:
"We found out quickly that Congress wasn't interested in
a 175-mile highway connecting one town to another. The only way to get
national attention was to create a coalition of states. That's how the
I-69 idea grew beyond Evansville to Paducah, and Memphis, then to
Shreveport, Houston, and Laredo."
But what was the glue that would hold that coalition of
states together? After rummaging around in their bag of handy excuses,
the Mid-Continent coalition found what they thought was the perfect
adhesive: a little bottle of something called NAFTA.
A sugar substitute with a bad aftertaste
It may be hard to imagine today but there was a time when
the term NAFTA didn't have an overwhelmingly negative connotation in
Hoosiers' minds. There was a time before the factories closed and were
replaced by strip malls, there was a time when tens of thousands of
Hoosiers were working good-paying jobs instead of flipping burgers and
cleaning slot machines, there was a time when the nation manufactured
more than just urban sprawl and wars in distant lands over cheap
gasoline. There was a time when NAFTA seemed like a good idea and a
good excuse to build yet another highway in one of our nation's most
We say it often and we'll say it again: don't get us wrong.
Dig deeply enough and you'll find a die-hard, cold-as-stone,
free-market heart beating within CIVITAS. We're prepared to accept
that, in the long run, free trade may be the tide that floats all boats
and that, despite the NAFTA-initiated net loss of over 30,000
manufacturing jobs in the past decade, Indiana may eventually come out
ahead in the game. But eventually is starting to look like a long time.
As John Maynard Keynes said in his famous retort to the
free-market utopians who assured him that laissez-faire works in the
long run: "in the long run, we're all dead." Things might improve by
the time we're in our graves but most of us are interested in improving
things a little sooner than that. Most of us will never live long
enough to see the upside of NAFTA, if it ever does come. And that fact
has begun the unraveling of the NAFTA-for-highway-highway-for-NAFTA
We've got another excuse in here, somewhere
Today the situation with NAFTA is different. No state in the
Union has heard Ross Perot's cranky "sucking sound" louder than
Indiana. Adjusted for population, we've lost more jobs to "free-trade"
than any other state, despite the fact that we already have more
highways than nearly any other state. Those facts, coupled with last
month's revelation that the brand-new I-69 route would actually end up
being longer than the existing interstates between Indianapolis and
Laredo, put the final kibosh on the NAFTA justification. For the
ever-grappling boosters, it was time to dig once again into the excuse
basket and find something new.
Except they didn't. If there's anything that exceeds the
weaknesses of the highway swindlers' arguments it's their lack of
imagination. Confronted with the wilting effectiveness of the "trade
corridor" argument they simply turned the dial back ten years, repeated
arguments made then, and hoped no one would notice. For example, in
responding to the fact that I-69 not only parallels the existing
Interstates between Indy and Laredo but that it's actually longer, the
Bloomington Herald Times bleated:
"The mindset here is that the only purpose of I-69 is to
race semis from Lake Huron to the Rio Grande. But how about
dramatically improving community-to-community transit … such as between
Evansville and Bloomington? (7/12/2003)"
Of course what the HT and the rest of the pro-highway
amalgamation want us to forget is that they're the ones who created the
mindset in the first place. It just happened to backfire on them. We'll
quote James Newland once again: "We found out quickly that Congress
wasn't interested in a 175-mile highway connecting one town to another.
That's how the I-69 idea grew…"
It's just so easy
It's so easy to come up with solid arguments against the
highway that CIVITAS often feels pangs of Protestant guilt when we do.
Work shouldn't be this simple, should it?
If I-69 is really about employment and income, then why do
INDOT's own studies indicate less than $80 per Hoosier family, per
year, in additional income from the highway in 2025 (that's about $28
in today's dollars)?
If I-69 is really about safety, then why do INDOT's own
optimistic studies indicate less than a 0.5% reduction in automotive
accidents if it is built? Would two billion dollars spent on improving
existing roads yield a much better return on investment?
If I-69 is really about education, then why not invest the
cost of its construction in treasury bills and thus provide 10,000 new
full scholarships for needy students, instead of just making an easier
commute for a few?
If I-69 is really about improving poor freight service to
Evansville, then why is there presently no premium on Evansville
shipments? For example, both UPS and FEDEX charge the same to ship a
package from San Francisco to Indianapolis as they do from San
Francisco to Evansville. The free market does not perceive a lack of
freight accessibility for Evansville. Why does the government?
If I-69 is really about a "modern" transportation system,
then why are we investing in a petroleum-intensive mode when even the
most optimistic Bush administration forecasts show permanent global
petroleum production declines beginning in 2025, just as the highway
comes online? In the past 25 years, the United States has gone from
importing 30% of its transportation fuels to over 60% today. Is
investing in staggeringly expensive transportation systems that
completely depend on dwindling fuel stocks from nations utterly hostile
to us really in our best, or smartest, interest? Are Hoosier leaders
really that uncreative?
What it's really about
We wanted to make it clear that, for highway proponents,
I-69 isn't really "about" anything, other than coming up with excuses
for why it should be built despite the monumental indications to the
contrary. I-69 isn't about transportation, it isn't about better
freight service, it's not about NAFTA, it's not about education, it's
not about efficiency, and it's not about safety. It's about I-69
It's nothing more than a means to its own, political, end.