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Future I-69 Access An Issue For Section 5 Residents

Road construction on Interstate 69

Photo: WFIU/WTIU News

Road construction on Interstate 69

The Indiana Finance Authority Board made preliminary selections Wednesday on private contractors who will be developing and constructing Section 5 of Interstate 69 from Bloomington to Martinsville.

Crews are clearing trees along State Road 37 preparing for the construction that will upgrade the road to interstate standards. That work is scheduled to begin this year.

Uncertainty About I-69′s Impact

Martinsville resident Betty Maxwell lives on Liberty Church Road, just off State Road 37. She and her family have called this home for the better part of a century.

“We built it about – it’s been almost 70 years ago, we built with family and friends. It has special meaning.”

There are plans to turn the area surrounding Maxwell’s home into an I-69 interchange.

Her brother-in-law’s house, closer to the road, is already slated to be purchased and destroyed. Maxwell doesn’t know if her home will meet a similar fate – but even if it isn’t destroyed, the interstate would nearly run through her backyard.

“It would be terrible, don’t you think? It’s just, I don’t know – I don’t understand why they want to do people this way,” says Maxwell. “It doesn’t have to be this way. It could be much easier – they could go three to four miles up the road and not destroy our home, instead of taking this as an exit.”

Liberty Church Road extends east and west of State Road 37, which will be upgraded in the next few years to interstate standards as part of the I-69 corridor.

“In the process of controlling access, so you can only get on or off at those interchange ramps, that requires us to consider all the properties that are along the existing State Road 37 and how they have access to the outside world,” says INDOT spokesperson Will Wingfield. “If they have a driveway right onto 37, either we would need to purchase that property or we would need to build an access road and somehow tie them back into the local street network if they don’t have that access.”

Construction Will Cut Off Access For Some Homes And Businesses

I-69’s been controversial, especially through Monroe County, where some activists have fought for decades against it.

But the road from Evansville to Crane opened in late 2012.

Section 4, just south of Bloomington, is well underway, and Section 5 through Bloomington is planned to begin this year or next.

Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan says the question now isn’t whether I-69 is going to happen – it’s what its impact will be.

“When Section 5 construction begins – I would think not until 2015, but signs of construction will start this year – the people will really begin to realize how many different crossroads are going to be cut off,” says Kruzan.

Because it would cut off roads that currently intersect with State Road 37, businesses and homes on those roads would lose their direct access to a major artery.

For years, city officials along the corridor have voiced concerns that controlled access to I-69 would also interfere with emergency response times.

Once construction is underway on State Road 37, motorists will have to find their way to access roads that lead to the planned interchanges onto I-69.

“Who has to pay for that? And I can tell you I’ve been asking that literally for 20 years,” says Kruzan. “And again, asking primarily the proponents, including the chamber of commerce. Those who are advocating for the road were very slow and in fact pretty silent when it came to answering the question how much this is going to cost, and who’s going to pay for it?”

Wingfield says the state has plans for that.

“So that’s the first part of the process, is determining how we can accommodate all the different businesses and residences along State Road 37, either by purchasing them outright or building access roads,” says Wingfield.

Living In Limbo

Meanwhile, the future is uncertain for the Maxwells. Appraisers have visited, but Betty says she hasn’t heard one way or another whether their home will be purchased.

Betty’s husband is 90 years old and blind. Whatever happens, she’ll be relying on friends and family to help with the transition.

“But it’s not a pleasant thought at all to think that you have to give up your home that you built with your own hands. We labored very hard, and so did our family and friends who helped us build our home. My husband almost died in World War II from injuries, and I just feel you don’t treat a veteran that way.”

Ultimately, the costs for Section 5 in the current proposals come to $325 million. Last summer we reported that this was more than $100 million under preliminary estimates, in part because INDOT is reducing the acreage it plans to purchase from homeowners and businesses by 9 percent because the state is largely paving the additional lanes through the existing median on State Road 37.

INDOT officials say they hope to break ground on Section 5 in 2014.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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