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Fighting a Proposed New Highway in SW Indiana to Save Our Towns

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are those of the individuals who have written this article and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) or CNU Midwest.

The Mid-States Corridor is a proposed new highway with the purpose of connecting I-64 to I-69. Five different routes are being studied that will create a bypass around both Jasper and Huntingburg, in Dubois County.

This proposed project is being driven by a small but powerful group of business owners and key politicians who are pushing for easier access for their trucking businesses so avoiding “congestion”, save time while siting safety issues. Currently Hwy 231, a two-lane road is the main route going north to connect with I-69. To support this effort Dubois Strong, the organization established to support economic growth in Dubois County, had an economic study conducted by Hunden Strategic Partners to identify the growth opportunities by adding the Mid-States Corridor. This study includes several flawed assumptions without supporting data including population growth and projecting $32.5 billion in new spending over a 30-year stabilized operation while completely ignoring the potential negative impact it would have on the current business infrastructure in both Jasper and Huntingburg and the longer term costs of maintaining the highway. While the supporters of this highway state if a highway is not built the service level of HWY 231 throughout Dubois County will be an F grade by 2030 is not true. Even using antiquated engineering traffic modeling to project increased traffic and congestion on HWY 231, studies done by INDOT in 2004 and updated in 2011 (the latest data) do not show any dramatic worsening in that time and in fact a few segments show improvements in their grade versus the 2004 study.

Both Jasper and Huntingburg are currently bustling communities with great support from both the public and private sector that have done an exceptional job investing in, building, and marketing what they have to offer. Each town has a vibrant base of locally owned small businesses that in addition to serving the residents, depends on the traffic traveling through town for supporting their businesses. Jasper currently has a comprehensive plan to dramatically improve the walkability and biking throughout the town, and recently have added a new Cultural Art Center and other attractions like the Parklands that bring tourist into the community. The downtown square continues to grow.

Thyen-Clark Cultural Center in Jasper that houses the Arts Center and Public Library

The Parklands in Jasper converted a closed private golf course to a nature center with walking trails and various activity areas.

The Jasper Downtown Courthouse Square includes a diverse collection of retail.

Huntingburg has invested significantly in its downtown area including their 4th Street main boulevard along with a beautiful Market Street Park.

The new Market Street Park in Huntingburg holds monthly events.

Huntingburg 4th Street undertook major improvements to accommodate ease of parking while also allowing for ease of shoppers to visit the various retail establishments.

The projected cost to build the Mid-States Corridor is $900 million in 2020 dollars. What the projection does not consider is the lost revenues by in town businesses and the additional cost the communities will endure over time. Instead, what this new highway will do is bypass these towns, divert out-of-town travelers to avoid these towns, support the type of sprawl that is not healthy to the growing infrastructures that continue to be made to support quality of life which has been identified by the residents and small businesses as being the most vital aspect in Southern Indiana.

So, is there a better solution that would improve access for large business and their transportation needs while preserving the integrity and vitality of these towns? The answer is a resounding yes. Recently Governor Holcomb announced a commitment to spend $75 million on safety and access improvements to HWY 231 through Dubois County. While the details have not been determined at this time, these improvements to the existing road along with the opportunity to use some existing roads for designated truck routes would resolve any need for a new highway. The added benefit of taking this approach is that there will be no need to build through forest, wetlands and other natural resources so vital to maintaining the integrity and beauty of Southwest Indiana.

Mark Nowotarski

Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor

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