Foes of Indiana I-69 extension file federal lawsuit

October 17, 2006

Opponents of a proposed extension of I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville, Ind., recently filed suit to block the project in U.S. District Court, alleging the plans now outlined would cause substantial environmental damage, the Indianapolis Star reported.

State transportation officials said they will break ground on the project in 2008, even if litigation is pending. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said the action might take a year, or two, to work its way through the courts.

"These same individuals and groups have tried every conceivable method to stop I-69. This is the next chapter of the same old story," said Gary Abell, deputy commissioner at the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The suit is the first to challenge the entire route of the project, the Star reported. The route was chosen in 2003, and announced by former Gov. Frank O'Bannon, following review by the state of multiple routes. The selection was endorsed by federal transportation authorities in 2004.

The new lawsuit alleges that the state did not properly weigh alternate routes including a less-costly approach that would have incorporated segments of I-70 and U.S. Highway 41 near the border with Illinois. The suit also alleges that the chosen approach violates environmental and species-protection laws and would destroy nearly 7,000 acres of farms, forest and wetlands.

State officials indicated that within a year or two, they will have completed most planning and design work for the project. Further, they note, the recent $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road has generated enough cash for the state to build the highway from Evansville to near Bedford, Abell said.

To cover the remaining cost, current Gov. Mitch Daniels is considering tolling along the route and letting operation of the road be handled by a private firm.

Joining the Hoosier Environmental Council in filing the lawsuit are Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, the Sassafras Audubon Society and six individuals.