A proposed new four-lane highway from northwest Kentucky through southwest Indiana could cause irreparable harm to natural areas and the animals that inhabit them, according to the Indiana Forest Alliance.
The preferred passage for the controversial Mid-States Corridor, will be identified in the fall, according to a press release from the project’s office at Vincennes University Jasper.
The limited-access highway would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, and through Indiana’s Dubois County to connect to I-69. The section that is being focused on starts at U.S. 231 near I-64.
“We’re concerned that it would destroy some of the most pristine wilderness in the state and potentially harm and threaten endangered species who live there,” explained Greg Weaver, who is the director of operations and communications at the Indiana Forest Alliance. “People should keep in mind that I-69 from Evansville to Indianapolis was built not that long ago, cutting through a similar part of the state. We don’t see the need to duplicate that not all too many miles to the east of there.”
Dubois County residents also have expressed concern about the routes, worried that the new roads will take people’s land, harm rare habitat and natural resources, cost taxpayers and hurt small businesses by diverting traffic from Jasper. About 500 members of the public attended a meeting in February 2020 to learn more about the route proposals.
The corridor, which will be used for improved highway connection in southern Indiana, will be identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, scheduled to be published this fall. Public hearings will be held after the statement is published, including a formal comment period.
“The review process is a lengthy one to thoroughly analyze benefits, impacts and costs for large projects that will include federal funding,” Jason DuPont, Mid-States Corridor project manager, said in the press release. “We’ve been even more deliberate in this Tier 1 environmental study to reflect some of the challenges raised by the pandemic, the feedback received from stakeholders and comments from the public. There’s a lot of interest in this project and it’s important to share our updated timeline so people have a better idea of what to expect and next steps.”
The statement will compare benefits, impacts and costs of alternative options. After the project team considers all public comments, it will further refine the preferred option in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the final corridor will be selected by the Federal Highway Administration, which should occur in summer 2022.
Currently, the project team is identifying working alignments within each 2-mile study band presented last year and modifying the alternatives to incorporate public feedback. This includes considering upgrades to U.S. 231. Freeway options are not being considered because of higher costs. Options for expressways, which have at least two lanes in each direction and access at intersections, are being considered, as are Super-2 options, which have one lane in each direction and a passing lane or wider shoulders in some areas.
Five potential routes, which all start near the intersection of U.S. 231 and I-64, are currently on the table. Two routes would run northeast through the Martin State Forest or Hoosier National Forest. Two others would run northwest across expansive farmland, and the final possibility would mostly follow U.S. 231.
The Indiana Forest Alliance has provided extensive input via a 13-page letter to INDOT drafted by the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Midwest Environmental Law and Policy Center that calls for the highway project to be put on hold while the pandemic limits public input. The letter also questions the project’s purpose and need and opposes further consideration of Routes “O” and “M.”
“We’re opposed to any new terrain route, and we believe the focus should be on upgrading the existing highways. We’re concerned about the impact the new routes would have on farms that might be split in half, by the displacement of people in homes and business and particularly concerned about routes “M” and “O”, which would cut through the Hoosier National Forest,” Weaver explained.
A grassroots group made up of concerned homeowners, farmers, small business owners and protectors of the environment has also stepped up to voice its concerns about the project.
“Bottom line is we do not want or see a need for a new highway. Looking at alternative routes and using and improving existing roads have not even been considered except through U.S. 231, which obviously would not work through the middle of Huntingburg or Jasper,” one of the group members, Mark Nowotarski, explained. “However, there are better and less costly options if the concern is for better access to I-69.”
The group has also gathered close to 4,000 signatures of people who are opposed to the five proposed routes.
“There is a core group of six to eight of us co-coordinating activities that have been held in the past, contributing information on social media and the website, and we continue to support efforts by the Indiana Forest Alliance, Conserve Indiana, the Hoosier Environmental Council and others,” Nowotarski added.
The grassroots group is made up of people in Dubois County and has also connected with others in Orange, Martin and Daviess Counties.
The Mid-States Corridor project office is reopening by appointment only. The project team will accommodate appointments for socially-distanced, in-person meetings that adhere to current health guidelines and online meetings. Interested parties should call the project office to request an appointment.
Public feedback is welcome through the project website, by calling 812-482-3116 and by mail at the following address: Mid-States Corridor Project Office, Vincennes University Jasper Campus Administration Building, Room 216, 850 College Ave., Jasper, IN 47546.
Each route is known by a letter and has designated road types.
• Route “B” connects to I-69 near Washington. It bypasses Huntingburg and Jasper to the west, runs northwest, west of Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area to connect to I-69 at a new interchange south of the U.S. 50 interchange. It is 34 miles long.
• Route “C” connects to I-69 at the existing U.S. 50 interchange. It also bypasses Huntingburg and Jasper on the west and continues northwest. But it runs east of Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area and connects to I-69 at the existing U.S. 50 interchange, using a portion of U.S. 50 just east of the interchange. It is 42 miles long.
• Route “M,” which is 40 miles long, connects to State Road 37 near Bedford; State Road 37 connects to I-69 south of Bloomington. Route “M” bypasses Huntingburg and Jasper to the east and continues north, mostly parallel to U.S. 231. It bypasses Loogootee to the east and then swings northeast, either using or paralleling State Road 450, until it reaches State Road 37.
This route would possibly cut through Martin State Forest and Hoosier National Forest affecting Indiana’s hill country and the East Fork of the White River, which is home to Lake sturgeon.
• Route “O” connects to State Road 37 near Mitchell; State Road 37 connects to I-69 south of Bloomington. This route bypasses Huntingburg and Jasper to the east and runs northeast parallel to the current State Road 56. The route bypasses French Lick and West Baden to the south and ultimately connects to State Road 37 south of Mitchell. This route runs 51 miles.
This route would cross the Lost River watershed and through a highly sensitive karst ecosystem. This area is considered geographically unique and is home to several species of rare or endangered blind cave animals.
• Route “P” runs through the middle of Dubois County, connecting to I-69 at its existing U.S. 231 interchange. The route bypasses Huntingburg and Jasper to the east and continues north, running parallel to and east of U.S. 231. A section of the route bypasses Loogootee to the east, but another section shows it also possibly bypassing the city to the west. Route “P” connects to I-69 at its existing U.S. 231 interchange. It is 54 miles long.