Opposition to I-69 could mean funding cut for Bloomington bus system

By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File

INDIANAPOLIS – Bloomington could lose more than $12 million in federal funding for its bus system and the region could lose millions more for road and bridge projects if the local Metropolitan Planning Organization fails to put construction of Interstate 69 into its transportation plan.

The losses would not be immediate. Transportation funding for area projects and its bus systems appears assured through June 30, 2013, even if the group refuses to endorse the region’s section of an I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville.

But in 2014 and 2015, the impact could be significant, said Richard Martin, a member of the Monroe County Plan Commission as well as the I-69 subcommittee of the MPO.

“It’s the threat of a loss of funding that has resulted in any action at all on the part of local government to support I-69,” Martin said Thursday. “We’re looking at all our options.”

The state's I-69 route through Monroe County and surrounding areas. Source: Indiana Department of Transportation.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization is a group charged with creating transportation plans for the greater Bloomington area. Those plans then must be approved by the state before federal funds can flow to the projects they include.

The community is operating under a transportation plan that runs through fiscal year 2013. The state rejected its amended plan that would have run through the end of fiscal year 2015 because the MPO did not include a portion of the I-69 extension that runs through its boundaries.

Without the inclusion of the I-69 segments in the MPO’s transportation plan, federal officials won’t complete the project, Martin said.

But without state approval of the MPO’s transportation plan – which appears unlikely if the I-69 project is not included – much of the region’s transportation funding will be cut off on June 26, 2013.

The state “wants us to do it and they will use every leverage to get it done their way,” Martin said. “Everything is fine as long as we cooperate.”

But he said local officials believe the state largely has ignored voices from Monroe County that oppose the highway.

“Very early on, the city of Bloomington through its common council registered objections to I-69 coming through Bloomington. The county commissioners have now done the same,” he said. “Those people have been elected several times and so it is clear there is a fairly significant portion of the population that is objecting to I-69 for all different kinds of reasons.”

But because the impact on the transportation funding could be so significant, the Bloomington-Monroe County MPO created a subcommittee to sift through the data and weigh the pros and cons of adding I-69 to the plan.

At a subcommittee meeting Wednesday, planners from the city of Bloomington presented details about the transit and project funding that could be lost if the state never approves a new transportation plan.

Raymond Hess, the senior transportation planner for the city of Bloomington, said Thursday the details largely are spelled out in the transportation plan the state has rejected.

Among the details:

  • Nearly $20 million in total transportation funding for 2014 and 2015 would be in jeopardy.  Nearly $6 million in state funds could also be at risk.
  • The numbers include more than $7.5 million in federal funding for Bloomington’s bus system would be lost, with more than $5 million in state funding also in jeopardy.
  • Another $1.4 million in rural transportation dollars and $5.5 million in transit money earmarked for Indiana University would also be lost.

Hess declined to comment on the impact that the funding cuts could have on the community.

“It’s for the policy committee to make that determination,” he said. “We want to help them make an informed decision.”

Martin said the loss of transit funding wouldn’t shut down Bloomington’s bus system but it would force the city to cut back on routes and make other changes that likely would hurt the city’s poorest residents.

“We want to be clear about our choices,” Martin said, “and the consequences of those choices.”

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