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Editorial: Successful I-69 corridor requires early planning

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Completion of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville has reached another milestone.

State officials expect construction work to start this year on the next phase of the interstate through southern Indiana. The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to select a contractor in March for work on a 21-mile section of the highway that will generally follow the current State Road 37 corridor from south of Bloomington to the southern edge of Martinsville.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said much of the work will involve building interchanges and overpasses as the route is transformed to interstate standards. He said the completion target is the end of 2016.

I-69 is now open from near Evansville to near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center southwest of Bloomington. The section between Bloomington and Crane could open late this year.

After the segment to Martinsville is completed, all that will remain is the transformation of State Road 37 from there to Interstate 465 on the south side of Indianapolis. And like the work on the Bloomington segment, it primarily will involve building interchanges, overpasses and access roads.

It also is the segment that will mean the most to Johnson County residents, as the interstate will cut across the northwest corner of White River Township.

The extra land that will be needed for the wider interstate already has sparked serious discussions and even some action by Johnson County businesses and governments.

For example, the White River Township Fire Department is acquiring land on Morgantown Road north of Smith Valley Road for a new fire station. It would replace the station at Mullinix and Smith Valley Roads, which sits on land likely to be purchased by the state for the interstate.

The fire department doesn’t plan to build right away. Actual construction will be based on the timeline for highway construction. But department officials wanted to make sure they had land secured for a new station well before it was time to make way for I-69.

As Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said, “We’re simply trying to plan ahead. ... I don’t want to wait so long that property becomes more and more expensive and less and less available.”

This kind of forward thinking is to be applauded, and other businesses and governments need to seriously examine their situations as well.

The completion of I-69 is at least five to 10 years away, but prudence calls for action well before then to diminish the project’s negative impact.

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