Interstate 69 supporters and Johnson County leaders packed a small committee meeting room to support an effort to remove a roadblock stopping the highway from going into Perry Township.
No one from Perry Township, Indianapolis or elsewhere showed up to testify against the proposal.
State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, isn’t assuming that means his bill will get approved or that the House Roads and Transportation Committee will even decide to vote on it before the deadline in the next two weeks.
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But the show of support helps, and he plans to lobby the committee to try to get it approved.
Price’s proposal aims to remove a requirement that the legislature must grant approval before I-69 could be built in Perry Township.
The Indiana Department of Transportation already has begun studying which routes might work best for the final leg of I-69 between Martinsville and Indianapolis.
The initial route identified more than 10 years ago was State Road 37. That would take the interstate through northwest Johnson County and through Perry Township to Interstate 465.
The underlying concern is that as long as the law is in place, it could be a negative factor leading the state to give greater consideration to an alternate or pricier route. Johnson County leaders want to see the interstate along State Road 37 because it could lead to new economic development on the west side of the county.
Price and local leaders aren’t asking legislators to pick State Road 37, only to allow the state to give it equal consideration.
The concerns Perry Township residents have about the interstate disrupting businesses and traffic are legitimate but shouldn’t have greater weight than the voices of other communities that support I-69, said Greenwood attorney William Barrett, the county’s litigation attorney.
“My main objective is to get the barriers taken out,” Price said.
Members of the roads committee asked a few questions to verify that the purpose was to remove the Perry Township ban and not declare a preferred route. Committee members meet two more times and would need to vote on Price’s bill at one of the meetings.
If approved, the bill would go to the full state House of Representatives for a vote. If approved in the House, Sens. Rod Bray and Greg Walker, who represent parts of Johnson County, have agreed to present the bill in the Senate, and the chairman of the Senate Roads committee has already agreed to give it a hearing, Price said.
Price told committee members that the Indiana Constitution, which was written well before interstates, automobiles and paved roads, says that legislators don’t determine where roads should or shouldn’t be built. Otherwise roads might be built based on politics, instead of the best course to serve drivers or commerce.
“We would have a patchwork of locally biased infrastructure,” Price said.
I-69, once fully completed, would create an international ribbon stretching from Detroit and the Canadian border to south Texas and the Mexican border, said Liz Irwin, executive director of the community-based Hoosier Voices for I-69. Completing the highway and setting the more feasible route in Indiana is just one consideration of the multistate project, she said.
The Perry Township ban is one consideration analysts will have to take into account when reviewing State Road 37, she said. The Southwest Indiana Chamber, Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indy Chamber all support removing the Perry Township restriction in order to help get I-69 finished.
“Each one of these routes should be evaluated on their own merits,” Irwin said. “The interstate is not just the interest of one municipality or even one state.”
County officials and representatives from Greenwood, Franklin, Bargersville and Martinsville all attended the hearing to show support for repealing the law. Martinsville, Greenwood and Bargersville all have spent money on projects to prepare for I-69, such as the $20 million Greenwood is spending to build a portion of the county’s east-west corridor that will eventually connect State Road 37 to Interstate 74 near Shelbyville.
Even though the interstate wouldn’t run inside the city limits of Greenwood or Franklin, the interstate would create opportunities for new business development that benefits the entire county, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
“Regional economic development, regional commerce is important for all of our communities,” McGuinness said.