Organizers estimated about 600 people showed up for the meeting discussing the Mid-States Corridor at Jasper Middle School Thursday evening.
While no new information was released by Lochmueller Group, the company tasked with handling the tiered studies for a proposed improved highway through Dubois County, the information made available about two weeks ago in their report was put on display on a larger scale.
The report released in January showed the group’s efforts to refine the potential highway down to five locations each with varying options on the type of highway that could be built. The group started with ten routes and each one was evaluated with several considerations including expected costs, impacts to both natural resources and the community, and performance against the core goals of the project. Those goals are to increase accessibility to major business markets, provide more efficient truck/freight travel in southern Indiana, reduce crashes in southern Indiana and increase access to major rail and air intermodal centers.
A study conducted by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., in 2012 determined the impact and reasoning behind improving the corridor through Dubois County to connect to the north and south. They estimated up to $1.3 billion in economic impact to the region as well as relieve congestion on other highways in the state and increase the safety of the existing U.S. 231. (This study was conducted well before the public/private partnership funded the ongoing Tier I study being conducted by Lochmueller.)
Two of the recommended routes travel west of U.S. 231 in Dubois County and meet up with I-69 in Washington. Two of the routes follow U.S. 231 while circumventing Huntingburg and Jasper before going through Loogootee and connecting with I-69 near Crane Naval Base. One route heads east of U.S. 231 and goes through French Lick before connecting with U.S. 37 around Mitchell.
While relatively new information was scarce, attendees to the meeting were handed packets with questionnaires and maps to be used for feedback. Additionally, several enlarged maps showing specific segments of the five proposed routes were on display with representatives of the Lochmueller Group available to answer questions at each station. Along with the analog versions of these questionnaires and maps, attendees were told the same forms could be filled out online and the maps downloaded — printing might be difficult because of the size of the files — at the MidStates Corridor website.
The current study can be downloaded here.
In the packets and online, surveyors were asked to rank the five routes in order of their preference. They were also asked to identify areas of concern in regard to those routes. According to Lochmueller’s spokesperson Mindy Peterson, those comments are important in the group’s decision-making process. “We had a resident contact us about a cemetery that was close to their home that they wanted us to be aware of,” she said. “That type of information is very important.”
Those responses and results are logged and kept on file with Lochmueller Group as part of the project process.
Lochmueller is expected to have a final decision on the route by this fall. At this point, the shaded portions signifying the general locations of the routes on the current maps cover an area about two miles wide. The decision this fall will narrow down the preferred route and identify the roughly 2,000- to 3,000- foot wide area in which the road could be located. A more refined location will be revealed in the summer of 2021.
After the route is chosen this fall, Lochmueller will host a public hearing and record comments from residents and stakeholders in the project. According to Peterson, each of those comments or concerns has to be addressed before making the final decision and submitting it to the federal level.
At that point, the second tier of the study will begin to determine the actual construction location of the highway.
The meeting held Thursday was filled with people concerned about the proposed highways for varying reasons. In addition to impacts on personal property, the environment and local economy, some attendees worried about the potential increase in drug and human trafficking through the area.
An anonymous letter lambasting the process, the cost to taxpayers and need for the new highway was also planted on vehicle windshields in the parking lot at the Jasper Middle School. The writer urged voters to contact their elected representatives to oppose the highway.
Additionally, a Change.org petition has been created seeking 5,000 signatures opposing two of the routes that will likely impact Hoosier State Forest and other natural areas.
While not addressing those concerns specifically at the meeting, Project Director David Goffinett assured attendees the group wants to hear objections and most importantly, why people object to the proposed highway.
The Tier 1 study is funded through a public/private partnership and administered through the Midstate Corridor Regional Development Authority (RDA). The MidStates Corridor RDA is a public organization comprised of five individuals selected and approved by public officials in Dubois and Spencer County.
Those members are Mark Schroeder, chairman and CEO of German American Bancorp; attorney Scott Blazey; David Drake of Huntingburg; Sue Ellspermann, president of Ivy Tech Community College; and Ken Mulzer Jr., president of Mulzer Crushed Stone. Each member has a four-year term on the board. Their meetings are public and held in Jasper on the following days: Friday, May 1, 2020, 4:00 p.m.; Friday, August 7, 2020, 4:00 p.m.; and Friday, November 6, 2020, 4:00 p.m. — all times EST and located at Dentons Bingham Greenebaum LLP, 212 West Sixth Street, Jasper.
In addition to the meetings and online contact information, residents are invited to get on the project’s email list or receive notifications via text. Also, a local project office is at Vincennes University’s Jasper campus, administration building, Room 216. The hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or by appointment. The office phone number is 812-482-3116.