If Interstate 69 followed the path of a widened State Road 37, crashes and congestion would be reduced compared with the current highway, but more businesses would be impacted and possibly forced to move.
That route, which would bring I-69 through Johnson County and the southside, is one of the top recommendations of both state and federal offices. State Road 37 has stayed on a short list of routes, along with four others.
But multiple factors are being considered when deciding what route the interstate should take from Martinsville to Indianapolis, including the cost, the amount of wetlands and other land impacted, and what the public and national and state offices want.
This summer, the state cut nine routes off the list of possibilities of where I-69 should be built. The reasons why range from impacts to wetlands and forested areas to lack of support from the public and local, state and federal officials.
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During the next few months, the state will take a closer look at the five routes left, including projecting traffic counts and congestion areas, studying what properties would be impacted, including farmland, homes, wetlands and businesses, and discussing where interchanges and access roads could be built, project manager Sarah Rubin said.
Planners will meet with local officials about their plans for the areas where I-69 would go, and those will be considered when determining a route and interchanges and access roads, she said.
For example, one route was cut because it bypassed Martinsville, and officials there are planning for the interstate to come through their area. Locally, both Bargersville and the county have seen the area along State Road 37 as the next potential growth area for decades.
No single factor will determine if a certain route should be kept on the list, officials said.
“We are balancing impacts with the benefits. We are looking at a wide array of impacts and trying to minimize them. The routes don’t all perform the same,” said Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.
The five routes being studied go through three areas: following State Road 37 to Interstate 465, a new route branching off State Road 37 to I-465 or a new route off State Road 37 to Interstate 70.
Each route has benefits and drawbacks.
The route to I-70, for example, has the best travel time to the Indianapolis International Airport, but it also crosses the White River, which is a concern of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division.
The route that creates a new path to I-465 from State Road 37 effects fewer commercial and wetland properties but also is a concern because it crosses the White River.
All of those routes impact fewer commercial properties than State Road 37, where multiple businesses have been built in northern Johnson County and in southern Marion County.
According to the state, if the current State Road 37 were expanded into an interstate, a total of 717 properties would be impacted, including 188 commercial properties.
By comparison, the other routes being considered impact from 400 to 800 properties, but fewer commercial properties.
The state wants to touch as few properties as possible because of the impacts to home and business owners and the cost of buying the land needed for the project, Wingfield said.
But just because one route impacts fewer properties than others doesn’t mean it will be selected, Rubin said.
“One with fewer parcels or acres does not rise to the top of the list,” she said.
Environmental impact also is a key factor, including wetlands, endangered species and forested areas impacted by the route of the interstate. Routes were removed from the initial list partly because of concerns raised by federal and state agencies.
State and federal laws also require officials to avoid certain properties, such as parks, schools and areas of historic or archaeological interest, Wingfield said. Those concerns are important because the state would need permits from those state and federal agencies in order to build the interstate, he said.
Both the state department of natural resources and division of fish and wildlife recommended the State Road 37 route.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also recommended that route, along with the new path from State Road 37 to I-465, according to a state report.
Next, the state plans to take information from studies of traffic projections, looking at the land impacted by the route and discussions with local officials to further shorten the list.
A state report shows the state could combine the routes that lead to I-465 to make one route, and do the same with the two I-70 routes.
By the end of the year, the state plans to have more public meetings to discuss a final list of routes and possible locations of interchanges and access roads. A final route for I-69 is expected to be determined by 2018.