More than a decade ago, local officials, residents and commuters began envisioning what a future interstate would look like along State Road 37.
Some state lawmakers fought against the route, especially in Perry Township, and got it blocked for a few years before the legislation was overturned. But during that period of uncertainty, local officials continued discussing development and infrastructure around a future Interstate 69.
Despite the state studying more than 20 other routes in the last two years, residents said they think State Road 37 never stopped being the chosen route for I-69.
“I always had this nagging suspicion that the decision was preordained,” said Troy Smith, who owns two businesses near State Road 37 and Banta Road in Marion County.
His suspicions were confirmed on the state’s 2016 official road map, showing I-69 following State Road 37 to Interstate 465, he said.
Residents and business owners who attended a public meeting about the route of I-69 this week cheered and clapped for Smith, agreeing that State Road 37 was always going to be the top choice for I-69.
“The Tier 1 route established State Road 37,” Perry Township resident William Boyd said. “So why did you spend all this money restudying something that was already cast in stone?”
In 2004, the Indiana Department of Transportation picked State Road 37 as the best route for Section 6 of I-69, which will connect Martinsville to Indianapolis. The new interstate will connect Evansville to Indianapolis, as part of a highway that travels from Mexico to Canada.
But in 2006, legislators approved a law that required the interstate to be built elsewhere. That prohibition continued until last year, when it was overturned.
State Rep. John Price, a previous commissioner and county council member, fought for legislation that would say that the state department of transportation, not lawmakers, should make decisions on the routes of highways. That meant State Road 37 could again be chosen as the route for I-69.
But before that, the state first did a study starting with 27 routes, including ones that connected to Interstate 70 and I-465. The list was whittled to 14 and then to five. Last week, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced that State Road 37 is the most logical route for the interstate because it reduced the most crashes, was most efficient and impacted the least amount of wetlands, forests and farms.
Building I-69 along State Road 37 was a choice that lacked imagination, Bargersville resident Linda Osborn said.
“I’m disappointed in the I-69 road,” she said. “I think it shows an incredible lack of imagination on the part of our government and our people in coming up with ways of dealing with traffic. But then again, it is mostly a government enterprise, so imagination is not the No. 1 thing that you tend to see.”