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No exit: Future interstate could isolate some sites

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Businesses, churches and residents who are now a few seconds away from State Road 37 in White River Township could get cut off from the highway when it becomes a new length of interstate.

Interstate 69 will be a limited-access highway, and that means vehicles can’t get on and off at every intersection.

Nine roads in Johnson County currently intersect with State Road 37, but only three will feed into the highway when eventually it’s turned into a new length of I-69 between Evansville and Interstate 465 in Indianapolis.

Commuters will have to find new routes to work. Businesses could be stranded, cut off from the road that brought many of their customers.

Interstate expansion

The eventual transformation of State Road 37 into Interstate 69 will leave many roads in western Johnson County cut off from highway access. Here’s a look:

What: Plans call for turning the four-lane divided highway into part of the new length of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville.

What will happen: The state could build overpass bridges to let some of those roads continue over the highway, build access roads to them or make them into dead ends.

When: Work is set to begin and finish next year on the section of the interstate between Bloomington and Martinsville. Land acquisition begins later this year. State officials have not set a date for when that work will begin on the section of the road through Johnson County.

Worshippers might have to take more roundabout paths to get to Sunday services at several churches, including the massive Mount Pleasant Christian Church.

A length of new interstate already snakes through southwestern Indiana, but the Indiana Department of Transportation only recently has started planning the section that will cut through Bloomington, where the four-lane State Road 37 will begin its transformation from a divided highway to an interstate.

The Johnson County section is still at least several years away and, in fact, so far off that the engineering study hasn’t been scheduled yet, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. More studies will need to be done, but preliminary plans call for interchanges at County Line Road, Smith Valley Road and County Road 144.

Other busy streets, such as Fairview and Stones Crossing roads, no longer would intersect with the highway under the current plans. Bluff Acres Drive and Bluffdale, Olive Branch and Travis roads also all would be cut off.

In some cases, the roads would become dead ends. Signs would direct motorists elsewhere, and the state might have to buy properties around the roads if they became landlocked, Wingfield said.

Another option for some of the roads would be to build overpass bridges that would allow drivers to continue east or west over the highway, but engineers would have to determine where that would be needed and cost-effective, Wingfield said.

The state also could build access roads that run parallel to the interstate, so that drivers could loop around and still get to businesses or other properties.

Detailed engineering studies will determine which option will be chosen for each of the nine roads that currently intersect with State Road 37. The likely interchanges have been preliminarily identified, but that information hasn’t been updated for seven or eight years, so the state will have to look at current traffic patterns, Wingfield said.

But not every road can get an interchange, so Fairview and others likely would no longer have the same immediate access to the highway.

Motorists on those roads would have to drive a mile or more to get onto the interstate.

Residents of the Bluff Acres subdivision won’t be able to pull out directly onto the highway. Drivers no longer would be able to pull off the highway and get to Stones Crossing Church or Mount Pleasant Christian Church.

Motorists also couldn’t pull off to grab a bite to eat at a fast-food restaurant at Fairview Road, where a few other businesses are clustered.

People who took the highway to get to Big O Tires, His Place coffee shop, a day care or a gymnastics school would have to continue north to the County Line Road intersection and then come back south on Bluff Road.

The inconvenience could hurt some of the businesses, especially if they’re oriented toward highway traffic, said Johnson County Commissioner Ron West, who represents White River Township.

“Certainly you’ve got countless examples of the interstate coming through and isolating an area,” he said. “Once-thriving commercial hubs go out of business.”

Angel Animal Hospital just off Bluffdale Road isn’t as geared toward the highway as other businesses might be but still could be affected, office coordinator Tina Moore said. Many people use State Road 37 to get to the animal hospital, she said.

“It’ll be dreadful,” she said. “It’d be difficult to say exactly what it will mean, but it helps that it’s easy to get on and off the highway.”

But people likely would still seek out the animal hospital, which would only be a short distance from a future County Line Road interchange, she said.

The veterinary facility gets a lot of its customers from the Center Grove area to the east and also is more of a destination than other businesses that might cater more toward highway travelers, she said.

An environmental study will look at the impact of the interstate and changes to east-west roads on businesses and other nearby property owners, Wingfield said.

The state could decide to build new access roads in some places, so drivers could still get to businesses, churches or other properties that have been cut off from the interstate.

But access roads likely won’t get built unless the state includes them in the project, West said. The county couldn’t afford that type of infrastructure project on its own and would need state or federal dollars, he said.

Bluff Road already functions like an access road, and that should help the cluster of businesses near Fairview Road, West said. But not everyone will be willing to go a mile or more to get to an access road.

“There’s a high volume of traffic, but it won’t help if it’s just passing by,” he said.

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