CRANE, Ind. (AP)
— The nation’s longest new highway in the works — a nearly $3 billion
interstate to link rural southwestern Indiana with the state’s capital — is
now half-built and ready for traffic, but lingering questions of when the
project’s remaining miles will open and how they’ll be paid for could cloud
After four years
of work, the first 67 miles of the Interstate 69 extension’s planned 142
miles will open to cars and trucks Monday following a ribbon-cutting and a
caravan Gov. Mitch Daniels will lead north along the newly paved stretch,
which cost about $900 million.
questions about how many years it will be before the full
Evansville-to-Indianapolis route opens, the highway’s supporters in isolated
southwest Indiana are excited and hopeful that even the 67 miles of
four-lane, 70 mph traffic will invigorate the region’s economy.
Ind., Mayor Joe Wellman, whose city of 12,000 will be served by one I-69
interchange, believes Monday’s opening will help spur new development and
jobs and give residents a safer journey to Indianapolis than the winding,
hilly state roads that have long been their main link to the capital.
distance between two points is a straight line,” Wellman said. “Right now,
you’ve got a lot of stops and starts — stoplights and small communities you
have to go through. There’s just lots of curves and hills.”
But for at least
the next two years, cars and trucks driving onto the new highway near
Evansville will slow and exit at a rural spot halfway to Indianapolis near
the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center about 25 miles southwest of
From that point,
they’ll continue on those familiar state roads with cross traffic and
second term ends in January, will leave office with his successor, Mike
Pence, facing the task of completing and paying for the remainder of I-69 to
Indianapolis because the funds Indiana tapped to pay for most of the
highway’s first half are nearly gone.
devoted about $700 million to the I-69 project from the $3.8 billion it
collected by leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a private consortium. But that
money has already been spent or allocated.
spokeswoman, Christy Denault, said the governor-elect is committed to
finishing I-69, which he views as the “missing spoke” in the network of
highways linking the state’s different regions.
multiple times that we need to finish what we’ve started,” Denault said.
tapping state and federal gas tax funds, she said Pence plans to explore a
variety of “innovative financing mechanisms” but has no plans to seek an
increase in the state’s fuel tax or to consider tolls to help pay for the
Environmental Council, which has sued to try to halt work on the highway,
warns it will damage sensitive ecosystems and has long questioned whether
the project will bring the improved travel times and economic development
touted by state officials.
Tim Maloney, the
council’s senior policy director, predicts many motorists traveling between
Indianapolis and Evansville won’t be using the half-completed highway. He
said Interstate 70 and U.S. 41 will remain their favored path, particularly
once a Terre Haute bypass under construction is completed.
going to be a better through-route than traveling a half-built I-69 to Crane
or to Bloomington and then using State Road 37 as it is today,” he said.
“That will have no advantages over the 70-41 route.”
hope to open by late 2014 a 27-mile stretch of I-69 now under construction
that will extend to State Road 37 at Bloomington — a segment slated to cost
The high cost of
that relatively short segment stems from the fact that it will cut across a
rugged, heavily wooded area dotted with a geological honeycomb of caves,
springs and underground rivers.
sediment from construction — and road salt, auto oil and spills along the
completed segment — could cause serious environmental harm in that area.
In rural Greene
County, the highway’s next stretch has already taken a bite out of about a
third of the 47-acre farmstead where Indianapolis residents Bill and Jan
Boyd had planned to eventually retire.
That land, which
Jan’s maternal grandparents purchased in 1919, boasts their old farmhouse, a
pasture filled with beef cattle and a weathered smokehouse that’s one of the
property’s numerous rustic outbuildings.
The Boyds’ land
had overlooked a wooded hill abutting a wetland. But in late March, after
the couple lost an eminent domain challenge to Indiana’s claim to their
land, a state contractor moved through and cut a swath of old trees to clear
the way for earth-moving equipment.
Jan Boyd, who
has fond childhood memories of exploring the woods and nearby springs and
spooky nighttime trips to the home’s old outhouse, said her family is
heartbroken by the highway’s impact on their land.
She said the
ravines and woods her five grandchildren love to explore will within two
years be permanently marred by the noise, smell and lights of an interstate
family, this was the most important thing to us in our lives. We were going
to retire here. How do you live with a highway 200 feet from your front
door?” she asked. “There’s going to be an interstate with hundreds or
thousands of cars and trucks running through here day and night, 24 hours a
When the segment
to Bloomington is complete, I-69 will span 94 miles, a stretch considered
the longest portion of highway built in the U.S. in decades over land never
But when the
highway’s remaining 48 miles to Indianapolis will open remains in question,
along with the project’s final price tag.
impact released in October shows that a 21-mile segment that would run from
Bloomington to Martinsville could cost between $500 million and $546 million
— $100 million more than earlier estimates.
estimates for the project’s final portion, 27 miles that will extend the
rest of the way to Interstate 465 on Indianapolis’ south side, range from
$700 million to $775 million.
would place the highway’s cost at up to $2.8 billion.
In the years
ahead, I-69 will more than likely have to compete with Indiana’s many urgent
road- and bridge-repair projects for the shrinking pot of gas tax funds
available for infrastructure upgrades.
Indiana’s tax on
every gallon of gas purchased in the state has been 18 cents a gallon since
2003. But since fiscal year 2004, the revenue collected by that tax has
fallen nearly 7 percent, to about $543 million, according to state records.
Federal gas tax
revenue that also help fund state highway projects is also declining as cars
have become more fuel-efficient, said Joung Lee, associate director for
finance and business development at the American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials.
The federal fuel
tax has remained at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, and the purchase power
of the revenue it generates has fallen about one third in the two decades
since, he said.
get a lot less now for that same steel and concrete, across the board,” Lee