U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has retired after 18 years of service. On leaving the Senate, he said, “Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.”

His record in the Senate, and previously as Governor of Tennessee (1979-87), was informed by walking 1,022 miles across the state in his 1978 campaign for Governor. He saw that poverty was related to dreadful road conditions. If getting somewhere is a chore and getting services and visitors to your town is difficult, poverty is reinforced by the highways. He proposed linking each of the state’s 95 county seats by four lane highways to the nearest Interstate.

It’s a thought that ought to be considered by Indiana’s moribund legislature.

It took generations to get US 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend upgraded to four lanes and only recently has partial, additional modernization been completed.

Similarly, how many had to die on SR 37 from Indianapolis to Bloomington? In 1970, the four-lane route was still incomplete, still opposed by many in Bloomington. Now, 51 years later, I-69, over that same route, is still incomplete, still opposed by many in Bloomington.

That’s how we make progress in Indiana, a half-century at a time.

We’ve seen the value of connecting Valparaiso via four-lane SR 49 to I-80/90 and I-94 in Porter County. In like fashion, wouldn’t residents and businesses of Frankfort and Clinton County benefit from a complete four-lane SR 28 to I-65? Wouldn’t Portland and Winchester gain from a four-lane US 27 to I-70 at Richmond? Hartford City to I-69?

How can we expect Connersville and Fayette County to prosper without a serious upgrade of SR 1 to I-70? When will Jasper have safer access to I-64, yea verily unto I-69?

Four-lane connectivity is not a guarantee of economic development. US 41 and I-64 give some evidence of that truth. But we lack even sufficient Super-2 roads, those wider, safer two-lane routes for commuters and truckers.

With more and more delivery vans fanning out across Indiana to homes and businesses, we have more and more warehouses stocked by larger and heavier trucks. For these services, many of our state and most of our county roads are inadequate.

Many familiar with Indiana’s history dwell on the canal “failures” of the mid-19th century. Yet, had Indiana completed its canals as planned, Toledo might have preceded Chicago as the great city of the Midwest and altered the entire dynamic of our region.

We could wait until all the changes expected of the internet and the electrification of vehicular traffic are realized. Afterall, there’s no reason to spend a dollar today and have our great- grandchildren laugh at our investment “errors.”

Indiana can make choices today to shape tomorrow or we can withdraw and let the world proceed without our participation, leaving us in a perpetual state of catch-up.
Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2022 Morton J. Marcus