Editorial: "New" and "Old" Terrain

The "new terrain" debate is perhaps most prominent in Indiana, but it has cropped up elsewhere: farmers in Mississippi are concerned about access to their property along an upgraded U.S. 61, while engineers in Kentucky are examining how expensive upgrading highways designed 40 years ago will be--highways that, when built, were indistinguishable from the Interstates of their era. Meanwhile, in Texas, most observers expected I-69 to follow existing U.S. 59, 77 and 281, but that was before the Trans Texas Corridor proposal surfaced with its plans of a new terrain freeway network roughly along the same corridors.

The big question in all of these cases is is new terrain worth it? The flip-side of that question is: when is "old" terrain not worth it? Largely, this boils down to a small number of questions:

So, where does that leave "old" and "new" terrain? It's clear that supporters of an "old terrain" upgrade of U.S. 41 mostly view it as a "compromise" (and their spokesmen have said as much); in their view, the interstate is a waste of money wherever it goes, and they would most likely wiggle out of that "compromise" if it were adopted by the state.

From the standpoint of value for money, "old terrain" can only win if the existing route is easily upgraded (as in Kentucky) or there are no benefits to adopting a new terrain route (as in Mississippi). In Indiana, neither is the case: upgrading U.S. 41 does virtually nothing to improve the transportation system of southwest Indiana, it is not an inexpensive proposition, and it is ultimately unnecessary.

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Chris Lawrence <i69@lordsutch.com> (11 Oct 2002 at 16:13 CDT)