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?
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.
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.