State Road 37 is the front-runner to become the final leg of Interstate 69, but the state could consider alternative routes west of the highway or even east through Johnson County.
For now, State Road 37 is the primary route being looked at because it was the best path identified during an initial environmental study 10 years ago. That is the starting point, but during the next 18 months surveyors and engineers will look at alternatives to weigh against State Road 37.
Local legislators, business owners and residents already have delivered some of their ideas to the state. Those suggestions include:
Following State Road 37 into Johnson County before curving west toward Indianapolis International Airport
Following State Road 67 toward Mooresville and the airport
Going farther west and upgrading State Road 39 north out of Martinsville.
Or reconsidering then-Gov. Mitch Daniels’ idea for the Indiana Commerce Connector, which would take I-69 east through southern Johnson County and connect to Interstate 65 south of Franklin.
2017 draft plan release
The Indiana Department of Transportation will make a decision on a route based on more than a dozen factors including cost, long-term traffic benefits, environmental impact to land, water and wildlife, and impact to local traffic, neighborhoods and business. The state will choose its preferred route when it releases a draft plan in early 2017, with all of the analysis included as supporting evidence about why the selected path is the best fit for the state.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the state hasn’t developed a list of possible alternatives yet and has no timeline for when engineers might have a firmer idea of where possible alternate routes could run.
If local residents and businesses want the state to eye different routes for the interstate, now is the time to act, he said. The state is looking broadly at routes, so local feedback will have the most impact in shaping what state workers should be examining, he said. The state will host another round of public meetings in late May to discuss the I-69 project and update residents about what’s next in the process.
“State Road 37 was defined in the first environmental studies that were done. We’re absolutely looking at that, but if there have been changed conditions or increased impacts, then we’ll look at corridors outside of State Road 37. We’re building on the work that’s been done up to this point. The public input is important, and we don’t want people to wait until the draft environmental study is done,” Wingfield said.
State Road 37 is the primary route being considered at this time, which would involve the state upgrading the highway to a limited-access interstate and building multiple interchanges. Interchanges previously were proposed at County Road 144, Smith Valley Road and County Line Road in Johnson County.
Concerns with State Road 37
One of the major concerns expressed so far with the route is the amount of disruption a wider highway might cause through Perry Township. Businesses and homes located near the road might need to be purchased and demolished by the state in order to add lanes or establish a wider buffer outside the travel lanes. Legislators approved a law in 2006 that effectively banned the interstate from Perry Township without legislative approval due to those concerns.
State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, successfully worked this year to get that Perry Township ban repealed. The measure was approved by both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature. Price, who supports the state upgrading State Road 37, said removing the ban will allow INDOT to consider the highway equally along with alternatives that might be researched.
Perry Township residents and lawmakers are pushing for the state to look elsewhere. Local school leaders testified before a state Senate committee about the effect it would have on buses. Business owners in the shadow of the highway are concerned about having to close. Residents who spoke at a public hearing in February were worried about traffic, noise and pollution near their homes.
Taking the interstate somewhere west before it reaches developed areas makes the most sense to limit disruption to existing homes and shops, to connect with the airport, which is a major economic driver in the region, and to keep construction costs down, said Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood.
Waltz, who represents part of Perry Township as well as part of northern Johnson County, said he thinks the state could follow State Road 37 into Johnson County into the Bargersville or even the White River Township area, but then veer northwest toward the airport and Interstate 70.
The state would need to build a new crossing over White River, but otherwise the highway would cut through mostly farmland instead of commercial and residential areas and likely lead to a substantial cost savings on construction, he said. Farmland may cost around $12,000 per acre, while buying an established business on a large lot could cost up to $1 million just for that one parcel, he said.
Cost will be a major concern for lawmakers because the state has no money set aside to build this section of the interstate and will need to figure out how to pay for it in coming years, Waltz said.
“It’s cheaper to build through a cornfield than a parking lot,” Waltz said. “And that was true in the 1960s, and I suspect that’s true today.”
Other westerly routes along State Road 67 and State Road 39 have been mentioned as alternatives because there is much less development that would be affected along those routes compared with northwest Johnson County and Perry Township.
Some residents who spoke at public hearing on I-69 at Center Grove High School in February asked the state to consider cutting east and creating the first section of a proposed commerce connector that would create a second interstate loop around Indianapolis. That plan, which was proposed by Daniels, was vastly unpopular in Johnson County since the conceptual plans called for the highway to cut east-west through farmland in an area roughly between Franklin and Trafalgar.
Right now the state is looking broadly along State Road 37 for areas with archaeological or historical importance or protected environmental areas such as wetlands that can’t be built through, Wingfield said. Analysts then will study other impacts such as local disruption, environmental impacts, cost and public feedback, any of which could lead to exploring a different route for comparison, he said.
Wingfield said the state isn’t looking anywhere else specific enough to define at this time.
“The definition will be more clear over time. It’s going to become more and more defined over time,” he said.
Although Price supports State Road 37 as his preferred route, he fought to remove the Perry Township ban to give every possible route an equal chance. INDOT professionals should be allowed to do their job unimpeded, he said, and he trusts the detailed study will produce the best route that will benefit all of Indiana long term.
Meanwhile, he said, he’ll continue to champion State Road 37 as an ideal route, due to the economic benefits it could provide in Johnson and Morgan counties.
“It would really amaze me if there is a route that was determined that’s cheaper,” Price said. “If there is, I’ll accept what it is.”
The state is continuing to work on a two-year environmental study to determine the route for the last leg of Interstate 69 between Martinsville and Indianapolis. Here’s what’s next with the project:
Late May: Public information meeting to discuss the purpose and need of the interstate. The state will collect more feedback about the interstate, which will be looked into as surveyors and engineers continuing researching possible routes.
Late 2015: Public information meeting
Early 2017: Draft of the environmental study will be released. The draft will include the state’s preferred route, with analysis of it and other alternatives that were considered. Public hearings to get comments on the draft plan.
Early 2018: Final environmental report will be issued. The Federal Highway Administration is expected to approve the project.
2018 and beyond: Design and construction of the interstate. State officials aren’t sure what year construction would begin, which likely will depend on how the project is funded.