COUNT US!  County Under New Terrain I=69



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."

Asphalt Strawberry: April 1997 - NAFTA Superhighways Threaten North America

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 Moratorium.

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 international issue.

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, both developers.

Louisiana State Budget:
Shreveport could face enormous growth with completion of I-69, I-49

- Jay Dauenhauer

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:

  1. It is relatively close to Barksdale Air Force Base
  2. It hugs the Shreveport-Bossier Metro Area
  3. It goes near the new port development south of town
  4. It avoids Wallace Lake
  5. And it reaches Stonewall on the north side, closest to Shreveport
    (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 metro areas.

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 continental U.S.”

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.


Route critics question tax dollars for group Coalition that backed path chosen for highway had received $157,000 from state and city.

Picture (in article)

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 study."

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 route.

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 ago."

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 area newspapers.

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:

More Scandals

Call for Investigation into Possible Violations of Standards of Congressional Conduct by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay

"Mother 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, INDOT
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.

Commuters 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 Indiana 2020.

Environmentalists 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
      Re:1994 Cover1994 Report,   (See a sinkhole photo)
INDOT withholds crucial information from Final EIS for I-69 - February 29, 2004
News Release

According to the results of a new analysis by several scientists 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 on their 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 caves and 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, on-the-ground study 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: (go to "FEIS comments").

Karstic features form in carbonate rocks (usually limestone), and 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 several 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 overruns.

"The exclusion of this data is a deliberate attempt to mislead 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 analysis.

"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 I-69.


Patrick Munson
Professional archaeologist, co-author, karst study

Thomas Tokarski
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
812- 825-9555

Andy Knott
Hoosier Environmental Council

Reprinted from the Bloomington Alternative
( August 24, 2003

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 question

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 paved states.

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 façade.

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 itself.

It's nothing more than a means to its own, political, end.

This column is an excerpt from CIVITAS, a weekly column written by Gregory Travis that focuses on the economic and civic dimensions of local issues. It takes its name from a similar format column written by James Howard Kunstler.


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