Portion of I-69 opens in SW Indiana

On Monday, November 19th, the first 67 miles of I-69, stretching north from Evansville, opened to the public. The IBJ had a great story covering the facts, hyperbole, and struggles that lie ahead for the 142 mile stretch of freeway that would eventually connect Evansville and Indianapolis. Many questions remain unanswered about this project chief among them, how is Indiana going to pay for it’s completion?

I-69 Under Construction (image credit: google maps)
I-69 Under Construction (image credit: google maps)

It is tough to argue that there will not be positive economic benefit from this project. Dozens of small communities along the route will be provided improved access to the state’s chief economic engine, Indianapolis. Through freight will be provided a new route to pass through the state. Along the way, there will be plenty of low density commercial and residential development. We can argue about the QUALITY of said economic development. Freeway oriented development often comes in the form of chain fast foods, truck stops or automobile oriented industrial parks.

However, one fact remains and it is that our state has not figured out how to pay for the completion of the freeway.

So, given the progressing I-69, when I hear resistance regarding the plan to pay for the development of a regional mass transit system in Central Indiana, it strikes me as odd, if not hypocritical. Some will argue that raising taxes to pay for this mass transit system is a non-starter; even given that the plan formulated would generate an IRR of 11.2% based on conservative fiscal estimates. In the Indy Connect transit plan, we have a clearly presented need for the system, a robust business case to pay for and benefit from it’s construction and operation, a firm design as well as clear benefits that will be generated by a meager tax increase to fund the transit improvements. Indianapolis, indeed the state as a whole, stands poised to gain considerably from the transit plan in the form of access to jobs and equitable multi-modal transportation options which are currently below par for a city of its size.

Indyconnect Adopted Plan (November 2010)
Indyconnect Adopted Plan (November 2010)

Meanwhile, a road that we have no money to finish is underway in the hinterlands of Indiana, being pushed by state officials banking on the economic benefits of the roadway. Dissecting this further, I-69 is creating greenfield freeway designed to spur non-existent economic development in sparsely populated regions of the state. Indy Connect would improve a currently underfunded and designed urban transit system in the state’s chief economic center that would benefit hundreds of thousands of people in need.

To be sure, the differences here are philosophical. The facts however, paint a different story.


EDIT: Thanks to an anonymous email responder for clearing up the financial side of this.

Comments 11

  • Bring on the interchange-oriented development to suck commerce right out of the traditional towns in the area, that’s real economic development!

  • Fairness dictates that I direct y’all to the intersection of I-65 and SR58, the Walesboro exit.
    After I-65 went in (and Columbus annexed the strip south from IN-46) Arvin built a facility just east. Then Cummins built its small-engine factory (currently supplying Ram Trucks, if memory serves). Then came the German farm-equipment company and the Japanese component factories. Then Toyota lift trucks and NTN’s huge complex. All in all several thousand good jobs.
    It DOES happen. And only one gas station/c-store.
    Even before that, I-65 dinged downtown Columbus but didn’t kill it. The SR46 strip to I-65 and downtown coexist.

  • The crowning jewel of I-69 will be to see it cut a new path through Indy’s South Side, through downtown and out to the Northeast.

    As a bonus, there are a lot of old, underperforming neighborhoods we can dispose of to make way for this economic engine.

    Imagine how great it will be to have a direct interstate route from Fishers to Bloomington.

    • It won’t be going through Indianapolis, but around it. It will follow SR 37 north through Perry Township to I-465 and then follow the beltway around to Castleton where it will resume along the current I-69. Neighborhood opposition killed the freeway from Downtown to Castleton (the only part of the freeway revolts that worked evidently) and there has been no push to bring the highway through that area since.

    • That will never happen. I-165 was shelved by Bill Hudnut in the early 80’s. I-165 would have extended I-69 to downtown Indy from the NE side.

  • I disagree with the Indy Connect plan. The entire rail part of the plan needs to be shelved. I see rail no different than highways. They are fixed, and there is no guarantee of revenue generating high income development to follow. And I’m pretty sure that development around the stations will consist of chain fast foods….or is that good so long as we are talking “mass transit.”

    Lets be real. Mass transit is a misnomer. The only thing mass transit moves is people. The only time the mass of people would be great is from about 6-9AM in the morning and 3-7PM in the evening, five days a week. And I feel that spread is being nice. Around the other times, there will be no “mass” movement of people or goods. Mass transit under Indy Connect does nothing for the movement of goods.

    I can’t get behind Indy Connect. It is clearly a pay-to-play political make-work project. The rail portion is too costly, and will be a complete waste. Scrap the rail component and add rush hour bus service from the suburbs, and give more to Franklin Township. Last I checked, they are still part of Indianapolis. I can get behind expanded bus service, but lets stop pretending the rail portion of this is nothing more than bragging rights and a taxpayer giveaway to politically connected construction firms.

    • First off, “fixed” guideway transit is a proven economic development tool when planned properly, just as a properly planned roadway can be. Also, how are you “pretty sure” that development around the stations will consist of fast food? Fast food development generally relies on drive through and large amounts of parking. The NE corridor plan SPECIFICALLY singles out land use surrounding stations and that the most efficient land uses will be planned. That is not to say that there will NOT be fast food, but the line and land use plan is being designed to dissuade this sort of development.
      Mass transit is not a misnomer. And you are right about one thing, transit buses and trains only carry people. People that would otherwise be on the roadways clogging up the roads for the goods you mentioned. Furthermore, while more people use transit at rush hour to and from jobs, it is hardly the only time people use transit. Clearly, you have not used a mid-day bus line and observed the amount of people on them. In addition, express buses are not a silver bullet. They are narrow for people to take advantage of. What about those people who work late or come in early? Hardly a great use of a public service that could be tremendously better. Finally, express (or peak) transit service is the most expensive type there is since it highlights a difficult labor pattern. Do you want to work 3 hours at a time? Neither do the drivers, and as such, labor contracts for said service is expensive and inefficient.
      Back to your point about Indy Connect doing nothing for moving goods, you clearly have not looked at the currently adopted long range transportation plan, which is vastly supportive of roadway projects that aim to increase capacity for “movement of goods”.
      Your comments about “pay to play” politics are hyperbole. Unless you can provide firm evidence that this is happening, it is nothing more than that. I can say that while some of the private firms involved in the planning underway are large corporations, their employees are local people who have to move to and fro throughout the region. Would it not behoove them to have an efficient transportation network as well?

    • Johnny P,

      Even if your inaccurate assumptions were true regarding ridership and peak hours, the easy solution for a fixed guideway like rail is to simply reduce the cars running. If it is more heavily used in the morning and afternoon, you simply add more frequency for those trips. That is a simple, cost effective and logical solution. If one “needs” to add capacity to a highway, it involves millions of dollars to widen and rework interchanges. These costly items can’t be stopped and started for peak hours, they are there no matter the traffic. How busy is 465 on the west side at 2 am? Yet there is still 8-10 lanes for traffic.

      Regarding the type of development concentrated around interchanges. I am sure you will find more often than not that fast food, gas stations and low wage service jobs are king. There are certainly examples of factory jobs locating near interchanges, but keep in mind that these large corporations simply bounce from place to place for tax breaks and if we are simply building interchanges for a few factories, then pumping huge amounts of other subsidy, what is the net gain? Has anyone on this forum seen the movie ‘Cars’? it details exactly what happens. There is a useable route near existing towns, a highway is built splitting the difference in most cases and some of those conveniences are relocated. We are not talking about economic expansion, but simply economic relocation.

  • I like fast food. One of the blessings of modern society is a Chick-fil-A or Steak-n-Shake next to a gas station along an interstate interchange.

  • I lived in Chicago, just off Clark and Fullerton, for a year and in a suburb for a year. I never had access to mass transit prior to that time. I got spoiled. We took the bus to go to Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, Wrigley Field, the Field Museum, Wrigley Field, the Shedd Aquarium, Wrigley Field, Rush Street, oh, and Wrigley Field. The price was 80 cents. Transfers cost a dime. If we wanted to journey to a suburb to visit friends, we took the bus down to Union, Northwestern, or the Jackson Street station and bought tickets for the regional train lines. We did not own a car. In the suburb, I had a monthly pass ($80) to go to the City and my job at Northwestern School of Law. When I moed here I was shocked that a city like Indianapolis had such a cumbersome transit system. The systems in Lafayette and Madison, Wisconsin ( where I also lived previously) were more efficient and accessible than Indy’s. There is a lot of mid-day ridership on the buses. If you take a bus to Victory Field for a business day special, you’ll see a lot of people (not many baseball fans) on the bus. We need 21st Century mass transit here, although I can see how cronyism would sneak into the letting of the contracts. We need to stop that in every aspect of the functions of Indianapolis.

  • I’m not sure why funding for this project is such a big deal. We’ve already fully paid for all the roads we currently have and have set aside a nice big reserve for maintenance and repair for them in the future, right? What!?! We haven’t?!? Good god, what are we doing…

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