Monday, May 26, 2003

Dem candidates split on I-69


One says new route better choice; other wants more study

The Associated Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - The two Democrats running for governor say they may try to change Indiana's plans to extend Interstate 69 to Evansville- although their official stances remain hazy.

State Sen. Vi Simpson of Ellettsville and former state and national party chairman Joe Andrew have said they would not block the route Gov. Frank O'Bannon chose in January. But both said they may push to change it.

Brian Vargus, a political analyst at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, said I-69 is a more volatile issue for Democrats than Republicans.

Many business interests who back the highway already lean toward voting Republican, he said. But Democrats may be pulled between factions of organized labor, who want to see the jobs the project would generate, and environmentalists who oppose it.

Still, Vargus said few people will vote on the I-69 issue alone. "I-69 is a minor issue that will be thrown into the mix," he told the Evansville Courier & Press for a story Sunday.

Simpson has said she has always favored a route that uses existing roads by traveling north on Indiana 57 to Washington, east on U.S. 50 to Bedford and then north on Indiana 37 to Indianapolis.

But that route ranked low on several factors in an Indiana Department of Transportation study.

Simpson said if federal approval for the $1.7 billion route O'Bannon selected is already locked in if she win the governor's office next year, then she would go forward with it.

"I would have preferred a different route," she said. "But I'm not interested in delaying the project at all. I support going forward with I-69."

Simpson said she's not convinced federal officials will approve the route, and if they reject it she would lobby for one that uses existing roads.

Andrew, who grew up near Fort Wayne, said during campaign stops in Evansville, Terre Haute and Bloomington last week that the issue needed more study.

He said he wanted to talk to Hoosiers about I-69, among other issues, before developing an issue-by-issue plan for the state. But he said there is nothing he can do about O'Bannon's decision now.

"My premise on I-69 is that, first, the governor has made his decision. There is nothing I can do over the next two years to modify that," Andrew said.

Andrew said too many unknowns persist, such as if the federal government will sign off on the chosen route or fund construction.

The candidates' hesitation to join either side of the I-69 debate frustrates those who have been in the center of the discussions.

"It's clear from the public comment and from the editorials all around Indiana that people oppose the new terrain route and support the U.S.41/I-70 route," said Andrew Knott of the Hoosier Environmental Council. "It's frustrating that candidates don't seem to be recognizing that."




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