The Indiana State Department of Transportation and the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization need one another.

That’s the message woven into answers to questions local officials have received from the Federal Highway Administration about the Interstate 69 extension project.

Here’s what the responses say is at stake for the two groups, which have been at odds in recent years about building I-69 through Monroe County:

The state needs MPO consent before it can use federal highway money to connect I-69 to Ind. 37 and head north from there toward Indianapolis.

The MPO needs INDOT’s cooperation if it wants to continue getting federal highway money for local projects.

Federal highway authorities also had this message for local MPO members: Don’t expect us to settle your disputes.

“This is an issue that remains to be resolved between the state and the MPO,” read one response from federal officials. “It is not the role of the FHWA to direct either party to a take a specific position regarding these types of issues; rather, we encourage the state and the MPOs to work together to resolve these types of matters in a cooperative manner.”

The issue is whether local, long-range transportation plans should include I-69. Construction of the new terrain highway has reached the Monroe/Greene county line, and federal highway officials have given approval to begin work on what is called Section 4 across southern Monroe County.

However, construction cannot go any further than the edge of the MPO’s jurisdiction, which would be 1.75 miles from the interstate’s intended link with Ind. 37 at Victor Pike, unless that is included in a long-range transportation plan approved by local officials.

Members of the MPO Policy committee voted in May to exclude I-69 construction from a plan covering fiscal years 2012-15. INDOT disapproved the plan because it conflicted with the state’s transportation plan. INDOT subsequently asked the MPO to reconsider. Last month, the MPO postponed a vote on that request until November so that a subcommittee could collect more information about the project and its impact on Monroe County.

A packet of 109 questions was dispatched to INDOT and the federal highway administration on Sept. 21. Answers were due Wednesday. Federal authorities sent responses to 30 questions they felt were appropriate for them to answer; nothing had been received from INDOT as of 3 p.m. Friday, according to Bloomington planning staff who met with the MPO subcommittee Friday.

Subcommittee chairman Richard Martin said the FHWA’s answers made clear that it is not only INDOT that has leverage in discussions with Monroe County about I-69.

Federal transportation officials stated repeatedly in their answers that federal money cannot be used for I-69 inside the boundaries of the MPO, which covers Bloomington’s urbanized area, as long as the state and local plans conflict. Constructing the part of Section 4 within the MPO will cost about $32 million, according to the state’s 2012-15 transportation plan. Martin said the federal share of that segment was around $25 million, which the state would not get without MPO consent. Construction costs for Section 4 from the Monroe/Greene county line to the MPO boundary are estimated at $387 million in the state plan.

Section 5 of the I-69 project would continue north along the Ind. 37 corridor to Ind. 39 near Martinsville — almost all of which is within the local MPO boundary. However, the FHWA in its responses also stated INDOT wouldn’t get federal funds for that section, either, unless it is part of a local transportation improvement plan. The state has estimated Section 5’s construction cost at $440 million, but it has not identified a funding source for that segment.

“If the MPO does not include I-69 Section 5 into its TIP, then any project advanced would not comply with federal requirements for planning,” read one federal response. “Federal planning requirements require that regionally significant projects be included in a metropolitan planning area’s TIP, regardless of the source of funding.”

Federal authorities also made clear that INDOT can reject any local plan that does not include I-69 and it can withhold federal funds from local transportation projects. Supporters of including I-69 in the local plan say that not doing so would jeopardize about $30 million in annual federal highway funds for the community.

“The state has the ability to refuse to accept the new TIP, and the state does have the authority to withhold federal funds,” federal officials wrote. “All projects advanced by the MPO are at the discretion of the state.”

However, the answer that Martin found most interesting was one that suggested that MPO refusal to accept I-69 might change what happens to the highway outside the MPO boundaries.

“However, if construction within the metropolitan boundary were not to be added to the TIP, then FHWA and INDOT would evaluate and decide which portions of the highway between the Greene/Monroe county line interchange and Ind. 37 would be appropriate to be constructed and opened to traffic,” the federal officials wrote.

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