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Editorial: I-65 repairs first stop on route to better roads

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Good highways are essential for economic growth, so it is heartening to hear the governor committing to improving one of Johnson County’s vital transportation corridors.

Gov. Mike Pence has approved spending $200 million in highway funding on two Interstate 65 projects. One will widen I-65 between Southport Road on the southside and State Road 44 in Franklin. The other highway project getting some of the funding is in the Lafayette area.

But this should be only the first step in enhancing the transportation infrastructure for the entire region. The interstate from Franklin south, particularly from Columbus and Seymour to Louisville, also needs to be widened to improve commerce and safety. And a widened I-65 to Chicago would be a boon as well.

The funding for the improvements comes from the state’s Major Moves construction fund. Last year the state planned to put $400 million in road funding into a savings account, but Pence asked to use that money for road projects on highways and interstates now. Lawmakers compromised and agreed to spend $200 million now, and the state budget committee will decide whether to release the other half.

Exactly what I-65 will look like after the work is done isn’t known yet, including how many lanes there will be, officials said. And exactly when the work will be done also hasn’t been decided, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said.

He added that the project should reduce congestion-related crashes on the highway. The state considers factors such as traffic volume, crash numbers and the condition of the road pavement when choosing highway projects.

INDOT will accept bids from contractors this year on the project between Southport and Franklin, but the start and end dates of the road work haven’t been set yet, Wingfield said. As the state designs the project, one goal will be to use existing medians and land along the highway to make room for more lanes as much as possible, rather than buying property.

This last aspect is important as it will mean an improved roadway without the loss of farmland or displace established businesses.

This project will increase the connectivity between Franklin and Indianapolis. But the work cannot stop there.

I-65 south of Franklin also needs to widened. In particular, manufacturers in Columbus and Seymour would benefit greatly from a wider interstate. An improved road also might cut down on some of the frequent accidents.

In addition, the state needs to firm up financing to complete Interstate 69 to the capital city. At that point, Johnson County will be uniquely positioned to serve logistics needs not just in central Indiana but statewide and even farther.

We applaud the governor for recognizing the value of the I-65 corridor and moving to enhance it. But as we said, don’t stop there.

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