Thursday, August 20, 2009

That Road to Evansville

On Monday, the Indianapolis Star contained an article by reporter Bill Ruthhart discussing the cost overruns on the I-69 extension to Evansville. It was followed up by a Star editorial on Wednesday suggesting it would have been better to have used existing I-70 and U.S. 41, widening and upgrading the latter, rather than build a new extension. The Star editorial opined that the I-70/U.S.41 option would have had far lower construction cost and far less property acquisition and loss of forest and farmland.

Early in my legal career, working as a Deputy Attorney General, I had to make a number of trips to Evansville. I worked in the eminent domain section of Attorney General Linley Pearson's office. There were a number of acquisitions taking place in the Evansville area, some of which resulted in litigation.

Since that time, I have made additional trips to Evansville. By now, I probably have 50 total under my belt. In the course of those trips, I have taken every route to Evansville of which there are many. I feel that practical experience gives me a unique perspective on traveling in southwest Indiana.

I cringe when I hear I-70/U.S. 41 mentioned as a viable alternative to building I-69. Of all the routes I ever traveled to Evansville, the I-70/U.S. 41 route which takes one through Terre Haute is the longest and takes the most time to travel. The route is over 200 miles and runs nearly four hours long. The most direct route is S.R. 67/S.R. 57, which takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes and is around 170 miles long. Another alternative is S.R. 67/U.S. 41 which is a little longer in terms of time and distance, but has fewer stops.

The problem with the I-70/U.S. 41 is not the fact it needs to be upgraded. In fact, the road in interstate-like for most of its distance between Terre Haute and Evansville. There is a delay getting through Terre Haute stoplights, but absent that, there are very few stops between Terre Haute and Evansville.

No, the problem with the I-70/U.S. 41 route is that Terre Haute, quite simply, is not on the way to Evansville. It's a little like going to South Bend, by traveling first to Fort Wayne.

I find mystifying the estimates that show only five minutes or so difference between the I-70/U.S. 41 route and a new interstate I-69 going much more directly to Evansville. The new stretch of highway, estimated at about 145 miles, would be about 60 miles shorter than the route through Terre Haute. I'm not sure how a trip 60 miles shorter would translate into only five minutes.

Even if the I-70/U.S. 41 route were a viable option, it would only address the need for a better Indy-Evansville road. it would do nothing to fix the lack of good roads in SW Indiana, most of which is not even close to I-70 or U.S. 41. Additionally, you have the rarely spoken of problem of heavy trucks being on narrow state roads in the region. Driving on U.S. 231 in SW Indiana can be a harrowing experience. Imagine a very narrow hilly road where virtually every other vehicle is a semi. Without an interstate in the region, those semis end up on regular roads, causing substantial damage and endangering the public.

While the editorial talks about loss of farmland and forest, that is a complaint that has arisen with respect to ever interstate ever built. Can you imagine though what Indiana would be though without I-65? While we have to be mindful of those concerns when building the interstate, those concerns don't override the importance of the project to a part of the state that has long been economically depressed and isolated from the rest of the state. Southwest Indiana deserves access to an interstate like every other part of the State. We need to find a way to make this happen.


varangianguard said...

INDOT is building a Bypass from Ind 46 southwest around T.H. (and the stoplight gaunlet) to around Farmersburg.

The difference would have been in dollars, not time. Using the I-70/US41 route would have cost FAR less in terms of land and/or easement acquisitions. Plus, I'm pretty sure the would have been far fewer legal challenges using an existing thoroughfare. Better PR, as well.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Sure they would have had to condemn property, but I wouldn't characterize those as "legal challenges." This isn't one of those cases where there would be a question over the right of the State to take.

Better PR, yes, but an upgrade of I-70/U.S. 41 gets you virtually nothing. In my mind, we needed a direct interstate route to E-ville, through SW Indiana or nothing at all. The I-70/U.S. 41 option I think is a bigger waste of money because it accomplishes nothing.

A bypass around the TH stoplights would be good. Of course, then the Bypass might get filled up with development and stoplights too.

Unigov said...

I really don't get the Evansville highway thing. It's not like building a highway to Fort Wayne, which then takes you to Detroit. Or 74, which gets you on out to I80 or I90. Or 65 to Gary, which gets you Chicago.

A new terrain route to Evansville doesn't open up any other major city or connection to a major city. There's already routes to Nashville, Memphis, and St Louis.

All along the way to Evansville, there's hardly any major towns. Once you're past Bloomington, there's only about 800 residents til you get to Evansville. I think the math would show that this construction would be a poor investment.

Looking at the - from KC to Memphis - there's no direct route there either.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

Unigov sez: "All along the way to Evansville, there's hardly any major towns."

Well, duh! There's no access so economic development is sparse.

You can't get there from here.

Evansville (and the whole region of SW Hoosierland) needs to be connected to the rest of Indiana, and I-69 is the best way to do that.

guy77money said...

Hmmm not a bad idea. Not sure where I69 is proposed ,but I would run it past Bloomington. It would certainly give you a option over 37.

Paul K. Ogden said...


You echoed my thoughts exactly. The reason why those towns are so small and there is no economic development is the lack of a good highway in the region.

Infrastructure is critical to economic development.

Unigov said...

"Well, duh! There's no access so economic development is sparse. "

- Why don't we pave the entire state, and populate it with gas stations and Dollar General stores ?

The kind of "development" the new terrain I-69 will engender can best be seen by looking at Pendleton Pike from Shadeland to Franklin. It will be a sea of cr@p.

This "development" will be based on a bubble, an artificial investment in a pointless low-ROI cause, just like Lucas Oil Stadium.

The numbers don't add up to make this road worth building. The sole purpose of the road is to create phony jobs. The "development" will help destroy the last quiet, peaceful portion of Indiana. And it will cost $6 billion, not 1 or 2.

Other than that, great plan, and excellent comebacks.

If you want real economic development, lower our taxes and stop building stupid Petroleum-era stuff like:

- The central library in Indy we didn't need
- Two NFL football stadiums
- Two NBA basketball stadiums
- An airport the airlines didn't want
- A new hospital we don't need