Letter: The proposed Mid-States Corridor – another highway boondoggle

In the summer of 2022, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and the Frontier Group published “Highway Boondoggles 7, Wasting infrastructure funding on damaging and unnecessary road projects” (see Highway Boondoggles (pirg.org)). In its Executive Summary, it asks the question: with the new infrastructure monies available for states, will they spend the money to address dire needs with our transportation system or squander it on wasteful boondoggle projects.

The contents of this report eerily parallel all the reasons the proposed Mid-States Corridor should not be built. Building new terrain highways harm our health and environment, doesn’t solve congestion, and creates a long-term financial burden. In 2016, the last time data was available, the federal, state, and local governments spent $26.7 billion building new roads and bridges and widening existing highways instead of using that money for road repairs and other needs. Building new roads will continue to divert billions of taxpayer dollars from repairing existing ones. Currently, there is a backlog of $555.6 billion needed for road repair and another $131.8 billion for bridge repair.

Transportation is also the country’s number one source of global warming pollution that contributes to our climate change. In 2021 gasoline consumption by transportation emitted around 1,018 million metric tons of CO2 and another 468 million metric tons from diesel. Using the financial estimated cost of $51 per ton, which is conservative, that equates to $75.8 billion. Focusing efforts on cleaner transportation infrastructure can dramatically reduce this wasteful trend.

Of the seven projects detailed in this report, the Martinsville Southern Connector in Virginia has several of the same issues as the proposed Mid-States Corridor. Even though it is only an eight-mile bypass at a cost of $745 million, the project would damage hundreds of acres of forest, wetlands, farmland and forced 21 families to relocate while providing few benefits to the area. In addition, the project planners are completely overlooking less costly and less damaging alternatives to upgrade the existing route. All of this is based on “predictions” that are at odds with reality. Currently, the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups have argued the study is inadequate and that they failed to consider alternatives, account for emissions effects, and the destruction of carbon sinks associated with building the road. Sounds a lot like the Tier 1 draft environmental study (DEIS) that was conducted by the Lochmueller Group for INDOT regarding the Mid-States Corridor.

States, including Indiana, need to invest in transportation solutions that reduce our dependence on automobile travel, have a fix-it-first policy, require full cost-benefit comparisons that include future maintenance needs, and revise transportation forecasting models. We cannot afford to build more destructive highways when there is such a need to repair existing roads, as well as the public’s desire for better, cleaner transportation options.  Again, states need to recognize the adverse health, environmental, and quality of life impacts that building new highways cause. In 2020 a YouGov poll concluded 79% of respondents said that we should fix our existing roads before building new ones. 

The Highway Boondoggles 7 report is one of several reports since the first edition eight years ago. All have similar examples of stories across the country with an increased awareness of the damage caused by Department of Transportation’s addiction to roadbuilding. Over time, several of these projects have been postponed or canceled due to the rise of citizen opposition.

The Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor presented over 8,000 signatures against this proposed project. During the public comment period droves of people came out to voice their opposition. Since the end of the public comment period, Lochmueller and INDOT have been mulling over the mountains of written comments. They just released an update stating based on public input they have adjusted the route options around and through Loogootee to four, with no other comment regarding the hundreds of comments they received. 

Once again in typical Department of Transportation fashion, they state the new options they will study are also for “potential” economic development to Martin County. Department of Transportations around the country continue to use the “potential economic development” as their justification for new highway projects with no data to back this claim.

The Federal Highway Administration needs to do the right thing and stop this project based on all the misinformation and incomplete elements contained in the study. It is destructive to our environment, climate, public health and is not needed.

The Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor