Canada to Mexico highway still a dream

(Bloomington) Herald-Times

Like it or hate it, the progress of I-69 through Southern Indiana is outpacing work being done in the six states through which the highway will run after it crosses the Ohio River and heads south. For decades, even generations, the highway will serve people from Bloomington to Evansville — and possibly Bloomington to Indianapolis — but not be the Canada-to-Mexico highway envisioned by national and state supporters who have pushed its construction.

There are many reasons the other states are behind Indiana, not the least of which is former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ commitment to building it and his creative way of financing construction through leasing the Indiana toll road.

But there are other key obstacles.

Two bridges are among them.

The one of most immediate interest to Hoosiers would cross the Ohio River and link Indiana with Kentucky. The two states take turns leading bridge projects over the river, and this one would be led by Kentucky.

It seems a high price tag is going to overrule building appropriately for the future. Officials envisioning a bridge project that would connect Evansville to Henderson, Kentucky, estimated 10 years ago a cost of $1.4 billion for a six-lane bridge with wide shoulders and long approaches, Reschke reported. But the plan has been scaled back, now calling for four lanes and shorter approaches for $800 million. If the road were used at a reasonable capacity in the future, drivers would need patience as the lanes are choked down when they approach the bridge.

Of course, that patience won’t be needed for a long time. Groundbreaking won’t be before 2020, and it’s no cinch it will come then.

The highway also will need to cross the Mississippi River to reach its full potential. Officials in Arkansas and Mississippi have been talking about such a bridge for 30 years, and the Federal Highway Administration identified a location in 2004. As it stands now, that bridge too would only be four lanes. It would cost $1.3 billion.

No groundbreaking date has been set. Don’t hold your breath.

Other assorted funding issues face Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. And everything’s bigger in Texas.

The interstate will cover 1,100 miles in Texas, the equivalent of the distance from New York to St. Louis. Think how many years that’s going to take.

Hoosiers who have longed for this connection from Indianapolis to Evansville should realize they’re more fortunate than supporters in other states who have pushed for I-69 access.

And for those who’ve opposed it, they can legitimately stick by their local and regional environmental and quality-of-life concerns. But the threat of a direct-access drug pipeline from Mexico to Bloomington shouldn’t be a worry for a long, long, long time, if ever.

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