A highway proposal by the Indiana Department of Transportation could result in the harm of rare habitat and natural resources in the southern part of the state, says a group of more than 70 businesses and organizations.
The proposed project is set to run north of Owensboro, Kentucky, through the Jasper area to Interstate 69.
The group has asked INDOT to rethink the need for the project, also claiming a new route in this part of the state is unnecessary and that funds would be better used to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Five potential routes, which all start near the intersection of U.S. Highway 231 and Interstate 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 routes were selected by the Federal Highway Administration’s Mid-States Corridor Project Team in February.
INDOT documents say the project would increase economic development in a declining area and improve safety and connections. A needs assessment also determined that the project corridor’s population was declining and that the project could decrease travel times.
In a recent letter, the group, which includes representatives of the Hoosier Environmental Council as well as churches, farms and small-business owners, also requested that INDOT at least eliminate the two proposed routes that run through forest land and karst terrain in Orange, Martin and Lawrence Counties. It said both routes would destroy sensitive and valuable environmental resources in the Mitchell Karst Plain, Lost River Karst Area, Martin State Forest and Hoosier State Forest.
The letter also points out that construction of a major highway through the forest and karst terrain would conflict with the interagency Memorandum of Understanding concerning construction of transportation projects in karst regions of the state.
Selection of the preferred route is expected in the fall, with further review by the Federal Highway Administration.
Public hearings should occur sometime in the fall. Public comments on the proposed project can be made through the Mid-States Project Office’s website.