With traffic backups on Smith Valley Road already the norm, residents worry that an interstate through the Center Grove area will turn the traffic situation from bad to worse.

Residents in Bargersville and the Center Grove area are concerned with the how increased traffic from the future Interstate 69 will make getting around already busy roads even more difficult. The interstate is likely to be constructed along the path of State Road 37 in the northwest corner of Johnson County in about a decade.

County and Bargersville officials are paying $158,000 for a consultant, HWC Engineering, to study current and future traffic patterns on most of the major routes through the Center Grove area, information that will help the county and town prioritize road improvements and make plans to manage the development of new businesses and homes. Local officials say these steps are necessary to be prepared for how the construction of I-69 will impact the area.

The study, which will be complete by the middle of next year, will need to be approved by the Johnson County Commissioners. Then, local planners will be able to use the information to help prioritize road improvements and properly review proposed new developments.

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About 75 residents packed into a room at the White River Township branch of the Johnson County Public Library on Wednesday evening to learn more about the county’s plans to handle increased traffic and changing developments from I-69. They asked questions about what roads the county is going to prioritize fixing, when those improvements will be made and how that work will be paid for.

Studying how traffic patterns will change is the key part to understanding what Johnson County will need to do to prepare and adjust to the changes that I-69 will bring, Johnson County Highway Department Director Luke Mastin said.

When I-69 replaces State Road 37, the only local access to the interstate will be at County Road 144, Smith Valley Road and County Line Road, meaning those three roads are likely to see an influx of new traffic.

Current traffic counts of the primary roads through the Center Grove area and Bargersville will be gathered, with an emphasis on looking at key north-south and east-west routes that will seek major changes to their traffic patterns, HWC senior planner Chris Hamm said.

Then, they’ll work with data from the Indiana Department of Transportation to project how those traffic counts will change, he said.

The main question that will be asked is whether the roads in place today are good enough to handle the projected traffic increase.

In many cases, such as with Smith Valley Road, the answer is almost certainly no, but having specific studies and data to back up those assessments gives the county better footing when it applies for state or federal assistance to pay for these projects, which the county intends to do, Mastin said

Christa Claridge, who lives in the Wakefield neighborhood, said one of her concerns is being able to access Smith Valley Road, which she lives just north of. Finding a gap in the traffic to get onto the road can already be a challenge at times, and she fears that it will only get worse as the road gets busier.

Widening Smith Valley Road is favored by drivers who don’t use it as often as well.

Marcy Pack, who lives in Bargersville and routinely uses County Road 144 to get to work, says she hopes that the widening of Smith Valley Road will make it the primary choice for drivers traveling between Interstate 65 and I-69, and help prevent traffic from getting too congested on County Road 144.

While improving Smith Valley Road, which will likely need to be widened since it is becoming an interchange, is a project that the county is well aware of, the goal is to look beyond the obvious fixes and examine every road that will be affected by I-69, and how that will change where development takes place in the county, Mastin said.

Changes to traffic patterns will have an impact beyond requiring improvements to roads and intersections, he said.

Areas that see increased traffic may be more likely to be redeveloped commercially, and the county needs to have plans in place to regulate the types of development that comes and how those buildings are constructed and designed, he said.

The consultant’s work will include recommendations on how the county and town rules should be changed regarding what types of businesses will be allowed in certain areas along I-69, and what quality of materials will be used to construct those buildings, Mastin said.

Bargersville resident James Pheifer said his concern is that County Road 144 could become another version of State Road 135, jam packed with restaurants and businesses and not enough infrastructure in place to manage traffic.

Improvements to County Road 144 will be considered, but it is too early to tell what those could look like, Mastin said.

Another concern raised by residents is whether sound barriers will be placed near neighborhoods that border I-69. That’s a decision that will be made by the state.

If the Indiana Department of Transportation determines that the sound levels aren’t enough to justify placing barriers, the county could construct those themselves, but that’s an unlikely option given the cost, Mastin said.

At a glance

Johnson County and Bargersville officials have hired a consultant, HWC Engineering, to assist in creating an I-69 Corridor Plan to  prepare for how the county and town should manage the impact of the future construction of Interstate 69.

What’s being studied: How I-69 will impact traffic patterns and development in the Center Grove area and Bargersville

Cost: $158,000

Timeline: To be complete mid-2018

What’s next: The consultant and local officials will study current traffic patterns and create projections of how that will be changed by I-69. The plan will also look at future development.

Approval: When the I-69 Corridor Plan is complete, it will need to be approved by the Johnson County Commissioners, then sent to the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Public input: Prior to the plan being voted on by the commissioners, an additional public meeting will be conducted so residents can give feedback.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.