Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fighting the Power with Memaw and Pepaw

Resistance to the I-69 project has always been strong in Bloomington, IN, and supporters of the initiative are quick to dismiss Bloomington as 'not representative of Indiana', what with it being a bastion of liberal thought and student activists and former hippies, and all that.

Tonight they held the first public hearing on the project at Martinsville High School in Martinsville, IN, which in general is a highly conservative, G.O.P.-all-the-way kind of town. There were plenty of 'My Man Mitch' signs in people's yards during the 2004 gubernatorial campaign, so they probably thought it was at least semi-friendly territory, but they were apparently wrong.

The meeting started with a Power Point presentation by a Daniels flunky about the plans for the highway - how many lanes, where the interchanges would be, where the overpasses would be. Not much was said about the highly unpopular decision to make I-69 a toll road - hitting all the commuters that use what's now State Road 37 to travel to Indianapolis or Bloomington with extra daily costs. Mostly it was about 3 alternate plans for the roads crossing 37, and in this example of democracy in the U.S., 2005 edition, the citizens have the power to choose, but they don't get to choose NOT to build I-69, no, they get to choose whether Ennis road will have a cul-de-sac or a Local road connection to frontage roads. Thank you, grandpa, for dodging bullets in Saipan so we can have freedoms like these.

Following the meeting was the 'have your say' bit, where local citizens were allowed 2 minutes to make a statement about the plan or ask specific questions (none of the questions were answered or addressed, I suppose they were 'noted'). A traffic light changed to yellow at 90 seconds and red at 2 minutes to keep people from going over.

The first guy to speak was an elected official they shipped in from Pendleton, IN, which is on I-69 North of Indianapolis. He glowingly spoke of all the economic benefits the Interstate has provided his town. Apparently the Interstate helped them preserve the town as an historic community somehow. He gives it credit for that, anyway. After this guy the Daniels people trucked in spoke, we didn't hear anything positive about I-69 for the rest of the evening.

People were pissed about the toll road decision. They wondered about the impact on air quality (one guy made the observation that "on 'No-Zone' days, we're told not to mow the lawn before 6am, but now you're gonna have thousands of trucks coming through every day?"), and the noise levels. People who owned businesses vented about their frustration that nobody in the government would listen to them. A man 'speaking for the small farmer' questioned the numbers used in the studies supporting I-69, calling them the result of a branch of math called 'Trickonometry' (corny, but better than 'fuzzy math'). An elderly woman who could barely stand up raged (as much as she could) about the government taking away her home. An elderly gentleman outraged at the prospect of losing his home suggested '3000 small lawsuits is better than one class action lawsuit'. Those who did not speak indicated their opposition by strongly applauding those who spoke out against I-69. When asked 'who here opposes I-69', everybody raised their hand. A couple people from C.A.R.R. in Bloomington spoke, but most of the speakers were locals judging by their knowledge of the town.

After the meeting I was encouraged that there was so much opposition to I-69, even outside of Bloomington, but at the same time I still have the impression the government just doesn't care what anybody thinks about it, or how it will affect them. It seems they've made up their mind this is going to happen no matter what anyone says, kind of like Bush made up his mind we were going to take out Saddam no matter what the facts were or what anybody thought. I'd like to think people could take a stand and stop the big swindle from happening, but I obviously have my doubts.

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