News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 16, 2012

EDITORIAL: I-69 opening spawns promise

Highway projects good on a number of levels

Terre Haute Tribune-Star

---- — The southwestern strand of Interstate 69, the most expensive, hotly debated and controversial highway Indiana has ever attempted to build, will officially open from Evansville to near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in eastern Greene County on Monday.

The opening of the 67-mile stretch marks a red-letter day for the development of the highway, which has been discussed — and cussed — around the state for decades. Transportation projects such as this are economic generators, and there is little doubt this highway will produce its share of commercial activity in coming years. It’s understandable that communities such as Washington in Daviess County are almost giddy at the possibilities as they work to take advantage of this new piece of important infrastructure.

We certainly hope I-69 fulfills its promise. For all the money that’s been spent to build it and land that’s been gobbled up to make way for it, not seeing at least some modest economic return on this massive investment would be a major disappointment.

Terre Haute and west-central Indiana, which will see a corresponding dropoff in highway traffic on U.S. 41 and I-70 between Evansville and Indianapolis, long ago moved on from their one-time opposition to the new-terrain route. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, business and political leaders advocated using the existing U.S. 41 as the I-69 route. They lost that argument, but immediately turned their attention to other matters.

We counted ourselves among those who believed that a new-terrain route was wasteful and unnecessary given the less-expensive and disruptive U.S. 41 alternative. But we’ve also moved on from that position and anxiously anticipate Monday’s opening. If one area of Indiana enjoys an economic boost from a transportation project, we all benefit. And Terre Haute, as a vital piece of the state’s economic engine, is close enough to the new highway that development anywhere in its corridor could have a direct positive impact here.

I-69 is only half finished, of course. The next phase, from Crane to Bloomington, opens in 2014. The final phase, from Bloomington to Indianapolis, has its own planning difficulties and won’t come about for years to come.

Transportation infrastructure is important to the state’s future. I-69 is destined to be a critical spoke on the network, and we’re confident that in the long term this investment will be judged a productive one.