INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The projected cost of the first section of the Interstate 69 extension slated for construction has risen nearly 90 percent since 2003 an increase opponents say hints that the project’s full price could more than double to nearly $4 billion.
A state highway official calls the activists’ estimate “grossly inaccurate” and said the project’s full cost can’t be known from just one of its six planned segments.
But Tom Tokarski, president of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, said state officials need to be frank about the rising costs of the highway, whose current official price tag already has risen to $2.1 billion.
He said there are now serious questions about how the project can be funded in light of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ failed legislative proposal to partially fund the I-69 extension with funds generated by a privately operated bypass around part of Indianapolis.
“It’s adding up to be a huge chunk of money. It’s going to be a lot of money and where is that money going to come from?” Tokarski said.
The big cost increase of the 13-mi. (20 km) portion of the 142-mi. (228 km) highway was included in a “Tier 2” draft environmental impact statement released in December.
That analysis states that the section covering 13 mi. north of Evansville would cost $230 million in 2010 dollars — an 89 percent increase from an estimate of $122 million in late 2003.
Construction of that portion is scheduled to start in the summer of 2008.
If the highway’s five other segments experience similar projected cost increases, the cost of the full project would grow to $3.35 billion, Tokarski said. With another half billion dollars needed to run the highway and a bridge across the Ohio River from Evansville to Henderson, Ky., he said Indiana’s total I-69 cost could approach $4 billion.
When the highway’s route was established in 2003, state officials initially estimated the cost at $1.7 billion, but it has grown by approximately $400 million since then.
Gary Abell, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the $4 billion figure arrived at by Tokarski and members of the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center “has no basis in fact.”
He said the highway’s six segments are being studied separately as part of environmental impact assessments that include revised cost estimates. Each section is different, and it’s inaccurate to say that what’s true for one section is true for the other five, Abell said.
“What they’ve done here is extrapolated those costs from one section, but each section is unique and independent. What’s true for one of them may not be the case for the others. So what they’ve done is grossly inaccurate,” he said.
Tokarski said he and his colleagues believe they are being conservative with their calculations because the 13-mi. section that saw an 89 percent cost increase would be built over relatively flat farmland.
In contrast, parts of the other sections would traverse forests, rugged landscapes, sensitive cave ecosystems, requiring more costly construction methods, said Tim Maloney, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
“When you get into the more rugged terrain, the cave country, that’s going to be very complex construction activity if it’s done properly,” Maloney said.
Abell said the original costs of the I-69 extension, released in 2003, were based on construction costs in 2000. The revised data on the 13-mi. section is based on projected 2010 costs.
He said the “Tier 2” reports for all six sections will be complete by the summer of 2008, and that the full cost will then be known. Abell said the reports for the two sections that span the area from Oakland City to west of Bedford should be complete by the end of the year.
The state hopes to use $700 million from the state’s leasing of the Indiana Toll Road to build I-69 from Evansville to the Bedford area. It isn’t known where funding for the remaining portion will come from.
Opponents of building an entirely new road across the state’s rural southwestern quadrant have urged the state to instead upgrade existing Interstate 70 and U.S. 41.