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October 12, 2012

Could another interstate be on the way?

HUNTINGBURG — Interstate 67 would improve road safety and boost the economy of the counties it runs through as well as southern Indiana and western Kentucky, according to a recently completed study of the proposed interstate.

The Interstate 67 Development Corp. has been working together to get the interstate designated, built and connected to I-69 near Washington. To do so, part of U.S. 231 would be upgraded to interstate quality and a new section of road would be constructed east of the current state highway.

The study by Cambridge (Mass.) Systematics was conducted to show the state and federal government the interstate’s potential impact on the eight counties it would travel though — Dubois, Spencer, Martin and Daviess counties in Indiana and Butler, Daviess, Ohio and Warren counties in Kentucky — as well as the region of southern Indiana and western Kentucky.

Study results were announced Wednesday.

Huntingburg resident and businessman Hank Menke, leader of the I-67 group, said the results show the interstate is needed.

“Absolutely,” he said after the hourlong meeting at the Huntingburg Event Center. “It absolutely proves it, to the point now that we need to push this out to the public and really get this thing going.

Projected traffic on I-67 for the next 20 years range from 16,000 to 30,000 vehicles per day.

The highest volumes would be on the central and southern sections of the road, according to the study.

Traffic on Interstate 65, which runs from Bowling Green, Ky., to Indianapolis via Louisville, would decrease as cars would feed into the new interstate via the Natcher Parkway at Bowling Green instead of into I-65, said Barb Sloan, principal of Cambridge Systematics.

“Traffic would be diverted from I-65, but there’s not much diversion from I-69,” she said. “So I-67 does not compete with I-69. The roads complement each other.”

Bringing the two-lane U.S. 231 north of I-64 up to the grade of interstate would improve safety, Cambridge senior associate Erik Cempel said. The study shows that having an interstate would decrease the number of accidents between .2 and 2 percent.

“It may not look like a lot, but it’s actually a significant decrease when you look at the entire region,” he said. “What it equates to for the eight counties (is) 500 fewer accidents per year and 300 fewer serious injuries per year.”

The new interstate would have a significant economic impact, by way of companies and individuals using the new interstate instead of I-65.

According to the study, that impact would be $460 million over 20 years if it is a toll road and $1.3 billion if it’s not a toll road.

The study also measured the economic value that would come to the eight-county corridor that would touch the interstate as well as the region of southern Indiana and western Kentucky.

If I-67 would be constructed as a toll road, the transportation-related benefits are valued at about $1.1 billion for the eight-county corridor and $1.8 billion for the region. If it wouldn’t be a toll road, that benefit would be $2.4 billion for the corridor and $3.2 billion for the region.

“It’s not just these eight counties that will benefit,” Cempel said. “As you divert traffic from other congested areas, you’re going to see improvements in those areas as well. They’re going to be industries in Indianapolis, down in Nashville that will benefit because their shipments are able to get there faster.”

The study, which took about a year to complete, was funded by local governments and businesses. “I think us doing this on our own without a state or federal government handout says a lot and should say a lot to the state and to INDOT,” Menke said.

The next steps is to promote the study to state and federal officials to get the needed designation and approvals to build the road, Menke said.

That will mean more funding, which Menke hopes to get public and private sectors to contribute.

“This is critical, maybe not for my generation, but for the next generation and the next generation,” he said. “We have to make sure we take care of our region.”

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