Completing I-69 would create economic engine

As we have said many times during the past few years, Interstate 69 is not about finding a faster way to Evansville. The project is about linking the economic centers of Evansville, Crane, Bloomington and Indianapolis. And we include Johnson County in that corridor.

A decision hasn’t been made on the exact route for the final leg of the I-69 extension between Martinsville and Indianapolis. State Road 37 has long been the focus, but a state law forbids the interstate from passing through Marion County’s Perry Township. That’s a needless roadblock and should be taken down.

It appears we have a champion on that point.

Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, said he’ll propose a bill in the legislative session that begins next month to revise the 2006 law that restricts the route of the I-69 extension. He said he doesn’t want county officials to have wasted money they spent adding water and utility infrastructure along State Road 37 to support the highway’s final stretch between Martinsville and Indianapolis.

Price said the highway will bring economic development benefits if it follows the State Road 37 corridor through Johnson County.

“A lot of money has been spent in Johnson County in preparation for (I-69.) It would be a shame to see it go away from here without putting up a good fight for this area, and that’s what I plan to do,” he said in a media interview.

A 2004 study of the 142-mile interstate expansion from Evansville to Indianapolis recommended the Martinsville-to-Indianapolis segment follow the path of State Road 37 to Interstate 465. But the 2006 law upended those plans by preventing the interstate — a 70-mile section of which opened two years ago between Evansville and Crane, southwest of Bloomington — from passing through Perry Township. Work is currently underway on a section that will run from the Bloomington area to Martinsville.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency is beginning an environmental study that will include a new analysis of the options for the route of the highway’s final segment.

If I-69 were to follow a route farther west, perhaps intersecting Interstate 70 near Indianapolis International Airport, Johnson County would see an increase in traffic due to motorists seeking a shortcut. Instead of traveling west then southeast to reach Martinsville, drivers — likely including interstate truckers — would exit I-465 at State Road 37 and head almost due south to Martinsville to pick up I-69.

That means Johnson County would have the kind of interstate-level traffic and increased congestion that I-69 was meant to alleviate in the first place.

We support Price in his efforts to erase the legal roadblock to the I-69 route. Then work on this vital link can continue.

At issue

A state law bars routing Interstate 69 through Perry Township in Indianapolis.

Our point

This legal roadblock would thwart efforts by local officials to improve the commercial corridor and should be removed.