Scott Tibbs

Hoosier Review, September 29th, 2004

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City Council votes against I-69

On September 22, the Bloomington City Council voted 7-1 to pass a resolution encouraging the state of Indiana to abandon the chosen "Route C-3" (which passes through Bloomington) for Interstate 69. Council members Andy Ruff, Chris Gaal, Tim Mayer, Chris Sturbaum, Mike Diekhoff, David Rollo, and Steve Volan (all Democrats) voted for the resolution. David Sabbagh, a Republican, cast the lone dissenting vote. Republican Jason Banach was not present, though he voted "pass" on last year's resolutions against the war in Iraq and the "Patriot Act", so it is likely he would have voted the same way last week.

This continues a long history of opposition to I-69 by the City Council. On December 1, 1999, the City Council passed a declaration opposing I-69. Last year, seven City Council members sent a letter to the state opposing I-69.

The Herald-Times argued against a resolution opposing I-69 on September 17, prompting a response from Gaal and Ruff. Opponents of the resolution argue that the City Council should not be using city time and resources making statements on issues over which they do not have jurisdiction. Opponents also argue that resolutions like these have no real impact on the policy on which the city making a statement.

It is true that this resolution will have about as much impact on the I-69 route as a resolution regarding rutabaga subsidies in the Sudan. Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan admitted that the resolution would not have much effect in a Herald-Times story the day of the vote. That does not, however, mean the City Council should pass resolutions on matters not in their jurisdiction.

There is no question that Interstate 69 will have a significant impact on Bloomington. Opponents of I-69 argue it will be mostly negative, while I-69 supporters argue that it will be positive. Resolutions on other matters (such as a resolution against the 1991 Gulf War sponsored by former City Council member and current Monroe County Commissioner Iris Kiesling) deal with matters that for the most part do not have a significant impact on Bloomington. Since I-69 does not fit that description, it is appropriate for the City Council to express its opinion on the interstate.

Scores of I-69 opponents showed up to support the City Council's resolution against the highway. In fact, the City Council had to impose a three-minute time limit and set up two lines for public comment to fit everyone in. Few I-69 supporters attended, however, prompting Ruff to say:

Where are the highway boosters in this community? I had suspected that they might not show up. They don't respect our local democracy. They should be ashamed of themselves. I say shame on them that they do not respect our democratic system.

This was an unfortunate mischaracterization of I-69 supporters. Individual highway supporters may have had specific reasons for not attending, or may have planned on attending and had something come up. Ultimately, though, one question many I-69 supporters were asking themselves was why they should bother. Considering the makeup of the City Council, the resolution was a "done deal" before the meeting was even called to order. Recognizing this fact certainly does not show a lack of respect for the democratic system. Supporters of the highway can express their opinion in other ways than by speaking at a City Council meeting.

What the City Council's vote did do, however, was reopen the community dialogue on I-69. Considering the impact the highway will have on Bloomington and the shadow I-69 casts over local races for State Legislature, that is certainly a good thing.