By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — For decades community leaders in southwestern Indiana dreamed of an interstate highway that would connect Indianapolis and Evansville. Now, that project is one contract from becoming a reality.
The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Finance Authority have finalized an agreement with private contractor I-69 Development Partners to upgrade a 21-mile stretch of SR 37 from Bloomington to Martinsville to interstate standards.
“When you look at how long we have waited on this my first reaction to the latest contract is that I’m tickled to death,” said Ron Arnold with the Daviess County Economic Development Corporation.
Private bonds to finance the project will be sold in June. Estimates put the cost of construction at $325-million with the work to be completed by the end of 2016. The Dutch led contractor would oversee the road maintenance with the state paying off the project over 35 years at a total cost of $340 million.
“The contractor will be maintaining traffic throughout the project,” said Will Wingfield with INDOT. “This will be a different type of project compared to the other sections we have done. This will be on an existing road, but it will have a quick turnaround.”
The state paid up-front for the first four phases of the I-69 construction. Then Governor Mitch Daniels paid for the work out of $3.8-billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road and a traditional combination of state and federal funds. The highway is now complete from Evansville to Crane with the leg from Crane to Bloomington expected to open in phases starting late this year and extending into 2015. With the work on Section 5 between Bloomington and Martinsville now financed and scheduled for completion in 2016 that leaves one final part of the project to finish between Martinsville and Indianapolis.
“Right now we are working on the environmental draft statement for that part of the project,” said Wingfield. “We don’t know when that will be completed. Considering that the original plan called for the first of the construction on I-69 to start in 2017 we are way ahead of schedule. We are just working our way north.”
“Every little bit that opens is going to help us,” added Arnold. “In this part of the state the feeling is when it opens to SR 39 it will be a big boost.”
Former Governor Daniels had been a big supporter for building I-69, but some area leaders were concerned about whether Governor Mike Pence would be willing to continue the work on the highway. “Our commitment and that of the governor is to finish the job,” said Wingfield.
“We are very pleased to see this,” added Arnold. “It is good to know what one governor started is going to get finished. This highway is giving us the opportunity to grow. It is drawing attention and there is no doubt in my mind that if we get ourselves in the right position we’ll get our share of projects.”
As the project begins to draw to a close the next hurdle for the highway may be the Ohio River. Officials still have not announced any plans for a bridge connecting I-69 in Indiana to the revamped parkways in Kentucky. “Right now our focus is on the Indianapolis to Evansville work,” said Winfield. “The bridges are a priority and we are working with our partners in Kentucky toward construction.”
“I think the game plan is to build new bridges over the Ohio,” said Arnold. “The bridges on U.S. 41 are not in the best shape and without new bridges you are looking at a bottleneck through there. I think that as the traffic patterns change and more of the north-south traffic moves to I-69 there will be a big push by Kentucky to route that traffic around Henderson.”