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Highway connections: interstate 69 moves down the road to reality.

IN MARCH, THE LONGplanned extension of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville took a step closer to reality with the Federal Highway Administration's approval of the highway's chosen corridor, the most direct route between the two cities.

This followed December's completion by the Indiana Department of Transportation of the final environmental-impact statement for the I-69 project. The project now moves to the Tier 2 phase, which will determine the final alignment of the road along the 142-mile corridor.

The I-69 extension will begin at Interstate 465 near the State Road 37 interchange, then follow 37 southwest through Johnson, Morgan and Monroe counties. South of Bloomington the highway will veer west into Greene County, then turn southwest again and for the most part run parallel to State Road 57 though Daviess, Pike and Gibson counties to the intersection of interstates 64 and 164 just north of Evansville.

"The corridor will be divided into six sections," says J. Bryan Nicol, Indiana Department of Transportation commissioner, "and each section will go forward independently. Residents and officials of the affected communities along the route will help determine the final alignment. To facilitate maximum input from each section, INDOT will establish a local office in each section."

Nicol says the Tier 2 alignment work will take 18 to 36 months. The anticipated construction timetable is eight to 14 years. The estimated cost of fine I-69 extension is $1.78 billion, with 80 percent of the money coming from federal highway funds and the rest from the state.

While opponents of the project have cited the cost as one of the reasons for their opposition, Mike Sample, executive director of the advocacy organization Hoosier

Voices for I-69, said the cost to Indiana represents only 5 percent of the state's current 25-year highway budget.

"The potential economic impact of this project is enormous," he says. "During its first 20 years, it's been estimated that the highway will generate $3.5 billion in personal income growth in southwestern Indiana and create at least 4,600 additional permanent jobs."

The road is also viewed as essential to the longterm survival of the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Crane According to Mike Gentile, executive director of the Southwestern Indiana Business Alliance, the importance of Crane to the region's economy cannot be overstated.

"The loss of Crane would be more devastating to this area than the Depression," he says. "More than 4,000 people work there, and 90 prevent of them are civilians." So far, Crane has been spared from the first several rounds of base closings under the Base Realignment and Closure Act. However, another round of closings is set for 2005, and Crane is on the list of potential targets.

Paul Lake, executive director of the Pike County Development Council, is another who sees I-69 as critical to long-term growth in the region. "You need to be within a certain number of minutes or miles to an interstate highway. Because we don't have that access, we lose a lot of opportunities."

"A once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity," is how Ken Robinson, executive director of Vision-e, the Evansville area's economic-development agency, describes I-69. "A north-south interstate will get us on the 'short lists' that we couldn't get on before."
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Title Annotation:Regional Report Southwest
Author:Yancey, Madonna
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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