Mid-States study to take longer than planned


Completing the Mid-States Corridor Tier 1 environmental impact study will likely take a little longer than expected.

Because of COVID-19, needed public hearings and meetings cannot be held at this time, Mark Schroeder, chairman of the Mid-States Corridor Regional Development Authority explained Wednesday during Dubois Strong’s annual meeting. The meeting was held online via Zoom.

“We have to have those public hearings in a format that is open to the public,” he said, “and allows the public to be able to comment at those hearings and participate in those hearings."

Since those will likely be delayed, he said “the final completion date of the Tier 1 EIS project looks like it will be delayed from the original mid-year 2021 to late 2021 at the latest."

The study is looking for a route for a new highway that would run through the area and be part of a north-south road from Owensboro, Kentucky, to Interstate 69. The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Mid-States Corridor Regional Development Authority are conducting the study, with the Lochmueller Group of Evansville gathering the information as the consultant.

“Like all state agencies, INDOT has been operating under pandemic guidelines, which has staff operating remotely, and allows basically for no major public meetings and events,” Schroeder said Wednesday. “And as an agent of INDOT, the Lochmueller Group has been required to follow the state pandemic guidelines.”

The public hearings that were expected to happen this fall, which were to present the preliminary study findings that would narrow down the multiple alternatives to a single route, will likely happen late in the year or early next year, Schroeder said.

“The opportunity to hold these type of public hearings is totally dependent on our ability to do so safely within pandemic guidelines,” he said. “And unfortunately for public hearings, there are no provisions in INDOT or Federal Highway guidelines to have a public hearing of that type virtually.

“We are at the mercy of the pandemic."

Hank Menke, who is leading the coalition working to bring the road to the area, said that the road will help not only the businesses and industry here, but it could bring other businesses, like tech companies, to the area.

“We have to look at diversity. It’s important that we support industry and we support diversity in industry,” he said. “We want our grandchildren, we want our great-grandchildren, we want them moving back here and getting high-paying jobs.”

A study done by INDOT concluded that by 2030, U.S. 231 from the south side of Huntingburg to the north side of Jasper will operate at a Level F service, “which is the most congested state at which INDOT says traffic can operate,” Schroeder said. “Put another way, we're talking virtual gridlock from the south side of Huntingburg to the north side of Jasper.”

Menke is concerned that if the new road isn’t built, the congestion from a busy U.S. 231 and the safety problems that would come from that will be detrimental to the area. “This road is very, very critical to the vitality of our community,” he said.

Dubois Strong leader Ed Cole shared some of the activities the economic development agency has been doing. Two upcoming projects will be an economic impact study that will include Dubois and Spencer counties, and a updated strategic plan for the organization that will be completed this fall.

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