Skip to comments.Suit filed over I-69 route
Posted on 10/03/2006 11:55:49 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
MARTINSVILLE, Ind. - In a town that is one of the key battlegrounds in the Interstate 69 fight, environmental groups Monday announced a federal lawsuit to block design and planning of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis leg of the highway.
The plaintiffs, including the Hoosier Environmental Council and several business owners, allege that the Indiana Department of Transportation ignored harmful environmental impacts of building a direct route between Evansville and Indianapolis.
It also claims INDOT was biased against a route that would have upgraded the existing U.S. 41-Interstate 70 corridor into a new highway.
It accuses 11 defendants - state and federal agencies and officials - of violating federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species
Act and Clean Water Act.
But Steve Schaefer, executive director of Hoosier Voices for I-69, countered the public in Southwestern Indiana overwhelmingly supports building the interstate, even if it is a tollway.
"It's pretty much the same stuff, the same arguments, that they've been using for the past 10 years to slow the project," Schaefer said of opponents. "It's not really a surprise."
Filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, the suit asks a federal judge to declare the Federal Highway Administration's approval of the I-69 corridor violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
It seeks an injunction stopping the $2 billion I-69 project until the defendants "objectively evaluate" the alternative route, U.S. 41 to I-70.
The plaintiffs allege the route, which would cut through Southwestern Indiana, then upgrade Indiana 37 between Bloomington and Indianapolis, would:
- Destroy nearly 7,000 acres of farmland, wetlands and forest.
- Destroy the cave habitats of the endangered Indiana bat.
- Bisect the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.
- Bisect the Amish community in Daviess County and heavily populated Perry Township in suburban Marion County.
Opposition has come from businesses along Indiana 37 in Martinsville, midway between Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Plaintiffs Brenda and Terry Buster own the Towne View Auto Clinic in Martinsville. If Indiana 37 is upgraded into an interstate, the couple's auto-repair shop would be demolished under eminent domain.
"If the highway comes through, (my business) exists no longer," Brenda Buster said. "My employees are out of employment ... for 13 minutes of (reduced) travel time to Evansville."
Buster said U.S. 41 to I-70, passing near Terre Haute, is the "common-sense" route. "I've traveled it many times and there's nothing wrong with it. It costs half the price-tag of I-69," she said.
Noise, air pollution and disruption to rural life were among plaintiff Sophia Travis' objections to the new-terrain route.
"Indiana is taking a huge step backward by fostering and continuing the obsession with outmoded forms of transportation," said Travis, president of the Monroe County Council.
INDOT spokesman Gary Abell had not seen the lawsuit but said funding already raised through the Major Moves lease will allow the state to build I-69 from Evansville up to the Crane warfare center. He said construction of that segment of the new interstate is on target to begin in summer 2008.
"That's where we're moving, until directed to do otherwise by the court. We are on target to make it at this point," Abell said.
Noting that INDOT has conducted "hundreds" of public meetings over the years, Abell said public input was reflected in the interstate design. Any business owners displaced will be compensated, he said.
Schaefer, of Hoosier Voices for I-69, understood the concerns of the Martinsville businesses, but said all communities along the I-69 corridor eventually would benefit.
"They're completely missing the most important reason for the highway; that's economic development," Schaefer said. "Sure, it will save 15 to 20 minutes off the drive, (but the benefit) is having interstate links to all the communities in the corridor with our state capital."
Besides Travis, the Busters and the Hoosier Environmental Council, other plaintiffs are Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, the Sassafras Audubon Society, Edith Sarra, Bloomington City Councilman Andrew Ruff and Monroe County Councilman Mark Stoops.
He ought to try to travel from Bloomington to Evansville sometime.
At one point along the long and bumpy road to Interstate 69, then-Gov. Frank O'Bannon appeared ready to proceed with planning and construction of a direct route between Evansville and Indianapolis.
But intense pressure from environmentalists persuaded him to start over. They insisted that planning had been inadequate, and they got their way with a brand-new environmental impact study.
That was in 1998, and this newspaper hammered O'Bannon for his decision because it would add more years to the process on a project that had been in the talking stages for something like 50 years.
It did add years, but O'Bannon proved the wiser for that decision. His highway department commissioned what was said to be the most comprehensive environmental highway study done anywhere in the United States.
With that exhaustive study in hand, O'Bannon in early 2003 came to the same conclusion he had reached years earlier: A direct route was the most sensible plan for connecting Evansville, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Even though the wheels were set in motion by O'Bannon and moved along aggressively by current Gov. Mitch Daniels, environmentalists have maintained that it is not a done deal.
To that end, and to the surprise of no one, environmentalists and citizens groups filed a long-expected suit in federal court on Monday, claiming that the state rigged the process on the way to choosing the direct route.
According to The Associated Press, John Moore, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center of Chicago, which is representing the plaintiffs, said that the Indiana Department of Transportation "simply did not take a look at Southern Indiana to determine what's best for this part of the state."
What is best for Southern Indiana is not keeping it in the dark ages of transportation for another 50 years.
There is a large section of Southern Indiana untouched by a modern interstate-type highway. It is that area through which the so-called "missing spoke" would pass. Hoosiers who live in that part of the state must now subject themselves to considerable time and sometimes dangerous driv-ing for medical care, education, business, employment and merely the enjoyment of the rest of their state. They do not have access to the type of modern transportation routes enjoyed by Hoosiers in Indianapolis, Terre Haute and New Albany, just to name a few.
The lawsuit alleges that the state did not seriously consider upgrading the existing Interstate 70 and U.S. 41 that run through Terre Haute.
That's because it is not a serious option.
The flaw in the groups' argument is that U.S. 41 is not an interstate highway. It would have to be almost completely rebuilt from Evansville to Terre Haute, cutting off access roads, homes and businesses that now directly connect to the highway. It would be a major construction job that would be no less inconvenient for people than the direct-highway construction.
And when it was over, there would still be no direct highway between Evansville and Bloomington. Indiana University students from this part of the state would still have to use curvy, two-lane roads to travel back and forth to school and home.
The truth is, any major highway project takes away green space; it is unavoidable. Indiana would have no interstate highways were that an absolute restriction. That's why planners must endeavor to do the least damage possible while providing people with a safe, efficient infrastructure for travel.
We recall that INDOT previously made a commitment to preserve or create three acres of forest for every acre that I-69 construction takes away. That's a responsible approach.
The problem with the environmental impact study, from the plaintiffs' standpoint, is that it simply did not go their way. So now they are attempting to stop the project in court.
The people of Southwestern Indiana who must use outdated roadways for essential travel have had enough delays. The court should make short work of this latest delaying tactic.
The enviros destroyed New Orleans and I guess they won't be happy until all of America is suffed out.
I-69 is suppose to run near our house. At this rate I expect to be 90 when it is completed