Study launched for Mid-States Corridor project

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — The Mid-States Corridor Regional Development Authority announced this morning the initiation of the Tier 1 environmental impact study for the Mid-States Corridor project.

The milestone was discussed at a press conference at City Hall in Jasper, where about 10 of the trailblazing project’s public and private partners detailed its more than 70-year history and the benefits it would bring to the region.

“There’s an old adage that says something like this: Opportunity knocks but once,” said Jerry Hunefeld, president of the Dubois County Council. “I’m not sure if that’s true. But in this case, for this road, for this corridor, I think it is true. I think this is probably our last, best chance to have a long-term impact on transportation in Southern Indiana, and throughout the Midwest.”

The environmental impact study will examine the concept of constructing an improved highway connection, beginning at the Ohio River near Rockport, continuing through Spencer and Dubois counties, and extending north to connect to Interstate 69. The cost of the study is $7 million — half coming from local businesses in the private sector, and the other half coming from local government agencies.

County Commissioner Chad Blessinger echoed Hunefeld in his address to the crowd, saying it’s “very exciting for me to see the next step progressing.”

The Lochmueller Group of Evansville has been contracted to conduct the study, and Jason DuPont is managing the project. He explained that the study will begin with systematic assessment and a series of outreach meetings in early August. Lochmueller must look at every possible route and look at the cost benefit of each, as well as the reasonable range on the alternatives of the type of road.

That process will be overseen by the Federal Highway Administration. Lochmueller plans to publish the Tier 1 environmental impact statement in 2020, with a final record of decision made by the FHA in mid-2021. That would allow the project to move forward into the Tier 2 phase, which is marked by preliminary design and refinement.

In his speech at the press conference, Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide told attendees that the Mid-States Corridor will alleviate significant anticipated congestion on U.S. 231 through Jasper and Huntingburg — an area that, by 2030, is expected to operate a service grade of F.

He said those conditions would be unacceptable for residents and local industry.

“We’ve got to be connected to thrive,” Vonderheide said.

State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, spoke on Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 128, a piece of legislation he sponsored and made the RDA — and the possibility of a public-private infrastructure project — a reality. To date, the Mid-States Corridor RDA is the only group of its kind in the state.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner also addressed the uniqueness of the project.

“Others at this event this morning are addressing the importance of this at a local and state level,” Spinner told the crowd. “But I can report to you that this is a project of national scope as well.”

Spinner represents Indiana as a member of the National League of Cities’ Transportation and Infrastructure Services Committee. At a policy meeting last month, those committee members discussed the future of transportation funding.

“And the model being used right here was a part of that conversation,” Spinner said. “Having a partnership between public entities and the private sector to fund infrastructure projects is going to be the standard in national scope for years to come.”




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