Southsider Voice correspondent
Local leaders are at odds over the final extension of I-69 through Perry Township.
Republican Sens. Pat Miller and Brent Waltz and seasoned Rep. David Frizzell were able to lead legislation in the General Assembly in 2006 that bans the proposed far northern leg of I-69 from passing through the heavily populated township.
It was a battle that began several years ago as the controversial I-69 extension was proposed from Indianapolis to Evansville as a slightly quicker route than improving a highway from Terre Haute to Evansville.
Most of the 142-mile interstate that extends from Evansville passes through open land as it follows State Road 37, with the exception of Martinsville and Perry Township.
Waltz contends that I-69, if completed through the township, would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually in lost property taxes due to the displacement of existing businesses and residential areas.
“It would cost less in land acquisition and would disrupt schools, businesses and homes far less if it were built west of State Road 37,” Waltz said. “The loss in state property taxes would be enormous.”
Miller and Waltz favor moving the route farther west to connect with I-70 near Indianapolis International Airport, where numerous warehouses are located.
Miller contends that I-70 in that area already has the multiple lanes to handle the increase in traffic. Waltz also supports a route that would take I-69 on an open-land route near Waverly and north near the airport and I-70.
The two Southside senators have an ally in Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, who sees the route as detrimental to businesses along State Road 37 and prefers a more rural route for I-69 on the Southside.
Other lawmakers don’t see it that way and want to protect the state and federal dollars that already have been spent on studies for I-69 through Johnson and Marion counties.
Greenwood Republican House members John Price and Woody Burton want I-69 to follow the route through Perry Township and connect with I-465 west of the existing State Road 37 interchange. They want the ban through the township repealed. Price has introduced a bill that would knock out the existing law and allow the route to extend along State Road 37 to I-465 as planned.
Burton supports Price’s effort and said he believes that any changes in the proposed route would cost more money and have a negative economic impact.
Price contends the route as planned would add to the state’s economic impact, a belief that many elected leaders in Johnson County agree.
There is a different perspective in Perry Township. Frizzell admits that the interstate would be a plus for Johnson County but would harm most businesses along Indiana 37 and interfere with traffic flow.
Plans call for exchanges on I-69 at Smith Valley, County Line and Southport roads. Overpasses would be constructed for Highway 144 and Fairview and Stones Crossing roads in Johnson County and Banta and Edgewood in Perry Township.
Proponents of the ban contend that I-69 with its limited access would block many east-west routes that are accessible to Indiana 37. I-69, they contend, would virtually cut western Perry Township in half and make it difficult to travel to businesses, schools and homes.
Funding of the final design and construction of I-69 north of Martinsville is not available under current state or federal budgets.
Environmental studies are under way for the proposed route through Johnson and Marion counties, according to Indiana Department of Transportation spokesperson Will Wingfield. However, studies also are under way for alternative routes between Indianapolis and Martinsville.