Evansville to Indianapolis

Evansville to Indianapolis

In a state that’s known globally for its logistics capabilities, one major highway project has remained an ambitious goal for several decades now. Today, that goal is progressing closer toward completion with the release of the Tier 2 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Interstate 69, which will connect Indianapolis to Evansville.

I-69 preferred route. Click to enlarge.

The study was released in a whopping 1,500-page format, described by its authors as “exhaustive” in more than one context. At its core though, the study stresses that in addition to increasing economic activity in the corridor, I-69 Section 6 (which is the critical linkage along the highway that will connect Martinsville to Indianapolis) will improve safety and travel times.

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) said that the Draft EIS recommends a preferred route and footprint for the 26 miles of new and upgraded highway, including the locations and types of 10 exits, 16 overpasses or underpasses, and new local access roads. The draft document estimates the maximum potential impact that I-69 Section 6 construction could have on homes, businesses, and natural resources, while identifying mitigation measures.

“This is an important milestone for an important project, and it couldn’t have been accomplished without the significant amount of public input we received from hundreds of citizens, elected officials, and civic organizations along the corridor,” said Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness. “This draft study moves us closer to what’s been talked about for so, so long – finishing I-69 and having a free flow of traffic from Evansville to Indianapolis.”

Over the next few months, INDOT is going to be gathering additional information from the public and various local and state agencies about the preferred alternative route, expecting the Federal Highway Administration will issue a joint Final EIS and Record of Decision for Section 6 in the first quarter of 2018. The Final EIS will identify refinements to the preferred route based on public comments and agency review. The Record of Decision is the federal decision that authorizes INDOT to proceed with design and construction of the project.

Let’s Talk About Business

What’s the best thing about a new interstate system in a state known for logistics? The business opportunities, obviously. And with I-69, those opportunities are aplenty.

If we examine just Section 6 of the project, from Martinsville to Indianapolis, estimates are projecting an increase in employee wages of about $1.7 billion, an additional $2.4 billion in regional domestic product over the 20-year period following completion of the section. And that’s really only focusing on the four counties directly along the route: Morgan, Johnson, Hendricks, and Marion.

Along this portion of I-69, assuming that Section 6 opens to traffic in 2026, business is going to grow. When regional costs for businesses are compared against regional accessibility improvements for business customers, suppliers, and markets, the results are pretty solid:

  • Added jobs by year 2045: 1,400
  • Added population by year 2045: 1,700 to 1,800
  • Added business output over 20 years (in year 2015 dollars): $3.8 billion
  • Added wage income over 20 years (in year 2015 dollars): $1.6 billion

The added business output and wage income over this 20-year period includes permanent growth due to the long-term benefits of the I-69 Section 6 project and does not reflect construction-related economic activity.

Other portions of the overall I-69 project are also drawing a lot of attention. In Monroe County, for example, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce is reporting that the already-completed strip of I-69 that connects Bloomington to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center is creating a major benefit. Travel times between the two locations has been reduced by more than half, which helps the naval center connect to greater workforce development opportunities. Roughly one-third of the Crane NSWC’s workforce lives in Monroe County.

Other entities such as the Economic Development Coalition of Southwestern Indiana have commented that I-69, although not yet fully complete, is still serving as a major draw for corporations considering site selection throughout the region. Many manufacturing operations will have to ship their products out of the Indianapolis International Airport, and even though the new road is still several years away from finished, the allure of streamlined freight logistics is proving to be a handy tool for groups that are hoping to draw new investment to their service areas.

There’s no doubt that I-69, as with many infrastructure projects throughout the country, still has several hurdles to overcome before it’s finally established. Currently, the new draft of the EIS still has to go through rounds of public comment and review long before any shovels touch the dirt. But one thing’s for sure – this project is closer to fruition that it’s ever been, and it carries great potential for the state of Indiana.