Dubois County Council members labored over their decision to provide funding for a state-sanctioned feasibility study of the Midstate Corridor.
They received calls and comments from residents during the past few weeks, as they thought about providing $1.75 million for the study. They asked questions to the locally-created Midstate Corridor Regional Development Authority, the group that has been negotiating with the state to move the project toward getting federal and state funding.
And the council members listened to residents who came to their meeting Wednesday evening to express concerns about the project.
Ultimately, the council approved the agreement to provide the funding.
The agreement between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the RDA will allow for a tier 1 environmental impact statement study to be done, which is required by the Federal Highway Administration. The goal is to get federal transportation funding to pay for the majority of the project, with the state covering the rest, explained attorney Bill Kaiser, who represented the RDA. Mark Schroeder, president of the RDA, was also at the meeting to field questions.
The $7 million cost of the study will be funded with local money — half from private industry and half from public municipalities.
The private sector has raised about $3.8 million. The City of Jasper has committed to $1.4 million, which is 40 percent of the municipalities’ portion. The City of Huntingburg has committed to 10 percent of the municipalities’ portion, $350,000.
The study will examine potential impact to the natural and human environments along a general corridor beginning at the U.S. 231 interchange with Interstate 64 near Dale, north through Dubois County, and connecting with Interstate 69. The study will identify preliminary alternatives for the project, but not an exact route.
The local Midstate Corridor group has been working for years to get a four-lane, limited-access highway that would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, go around Huntingburg and Jasper and continue north to connect to I-69.
Eric and Marisa Durcholz, Jason Terwiske and Betty Fendel expressed to the county council Wednesday their concerns about the unknowns in the project, including financial unknowns, and that all information will not be transparent and easily accessible to the public.
“We’ve been told there is no specific route set,” Terwiske said, “but here you mentioned other counties. That bothers me, because that tells me that there is something in mind.”
He said all options should be researched, and the public should have a say into where the road is placed.
“It seems like some control is being taken from the public,” Marisa Durcholz said.
Council members also shared concerns they have heard from the public, including the potential of breaking up farms, having a negative environmental impact. Some also worry about the road becoming a thoroughfare for drugs coming into the area.
People have said the road will be expensive, and that the downtowns in Jasper and Huntingburg will die because the road would route traffic around the cities, Council President Jerry Hunefeld said.
Each council member shared thoughts on the project, taking in the concerns of the public as well as personal concerns. In the end, each determined that having the road would be in the best interest of the community.
“I’ve seen wrecks in downtown Jasper, thinking that if this [road] was already in place, it could [alleviate] some of this congestion,” Councilman Doug Uebelhor said. “I believe this could be a great benefit, to provide that connectivity and to provide that relief from the heavy traffic that is going on our county roads right now. Alleviating that heavy traffic from those county roads will prevent us from resurfacing those as quickly.”
Councilwoman Charmian Klem said the road would help with accessibility. “The $1.7 million we are proposing to put to this project could bring us a great corridor through our area,” she said, “to help keep us moving forward as a community.”
She has heard from residents who said the $1.75 million being considered should go into repairing current roads. But, in checking with the county highway department, Klem learned that $1.75 million would cover repairs on 20 miles of road one time. And, she explained that local governments have been getting additional funding for roads through things like the increased gas tax and from the state’s Community Crossings program.
“So there is more money coming in to repair and upgrade our local roads,” Klem said.
Councilwoman Becky Beckman acknowledged that the road won’t solve all of Dubois County’s problems.
“It’s been interesting to me to hear the older folks say, ‘You’ve got to do it’,” she said. “All of my lifetime, I have been around people who have tried to figure out how to route the trucks out of Jasper, out of Huntingburg so that they stay out of the downtowns.”
She said there must be benefits for the county as a whole, not just businesses. That means wages must increase to bring and keep workers here. “It has to be a win for the taxpayers, or we won’t be vibrant, because we would be leaving a good portion of us behind,” Beckman said.
The council voted to approve the funding.
“It’s not going to be 100 percent; there will be a percentage of the people who will disagree,” Hunefeld said. “This is a window of opportunity that opens rarely. If we don’t take it, it may never come again.”
State officials are also in agreement, with INDOT announcing the partnership with the local RDA Wednesday afternoon, prior to the county council’s final vote.
“The collaboration between state, local and regional partners on this environmental study is a great model for coming together to pursue regional infrastructure improvements,” Joe McGuinness, commissioner of INDOT, said in a press release. “I’m pleased that by initiating this process, we are exploring highway infrastructure improvements in this area in greater detail.”
INDOT will add the Midstate Corridor to its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, making the project eligible for federal matching funds. INDOT and the RDA will work together to prepare a request for proposals for consultant services, review proposals, select a consulting firm and review major project findings throughout the study process, an INDOT spokesman said.
Along the way, there will be public meetings to get local input from residents, Kaiser told the county council Wednesday.