After several hours of debate and public comment, the Bloomington, Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee (MPO) voted Friday to postpone a vote on whether to include I-69 in its long term transportation plans. The MPO will meet again in February.
Until then, the I-69 Subcommittee, chaired by Richard Martin, will be revived. The subcommittee was created in September, when the MPO initially postponed a vote on whether to exclude I-69 from its Transportation Improvement Plans.
The MPO created the new subcommittee with the intent that it sit down with members of the Indiana Department of Transportation, and representatives of the Federal Highway Administration to clear up questions the MPO had with regards to the highway.
Through the months of September and October, the subcommittee gathered questions from the MPO, and both INDOT and Federal Highway provided responses to more than 100 questions.
During Friday’s meeting, Martin presented the highlights of the responses to the committee. It became clear that though the MPO can continue to not include I-69 in its TIP, INDOT can still build the road into Bloomington but would have to do so without federal funds.
In addition, if the MPO does not include I-69 in its 2012-2015 TIP, INDOT will not sign off on the document, meaning all MPO projects after 2012 will loose federal funding. That includes several million dollars in road projects for the city and county and several million dollars in funding for Bloomington Transit and IU Campus Bus.
A list of all funding at risk as determined by the subcommittee can be found on page 25 of this document.
However, according to Martin, withholding I-69 from the MPO’s TIP may be the only way Monroe County has of keeping any local control over the project.
Following a presentation, MPO members questioned INDOT representative Jim Stark and Federal Highway Representative Bob Tally.
County commissioner Mark Stoops wondered whether withholding the MPO’s support from INDOT’s plan was the only carrot the county had left to keep INDOT discussing its plans for routing the road through the county.
“You’re asking us to negotiate with a gun at our head,” he said. “The only reason we’re here is because you have threatened to cut off vital funding for programs we have. That’s extortion.”
Throughout the meeting, Stark asked the MPO to take a vote and include I-69 in the county’s transportation plans, something the county has been putting off for months.
“I would hope that this group, based on our request for this amendment,” he said, “would act today, make a decision, as you planned in the September meeting, that’s what we talked about doing.”
Most of the public comment came from those opposed to the highway and spoke in praise of the MPO for standing up to INDOT on this project.
According to Tally, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was being briefed on Friday’s meeting, because, he says, no other MPO in the country has attempted to stop an interstate in this manner.