State highway officials planning the final leg of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis Interstate 69 extension have released details of 14 possible routes they're considering that would either cut across Indianapolis' south side or adjacent suburban counties.
The Indiana Department of Transportation showed off maps of the proposed routes this week, along with charts documenting the acreage each would impact, during public meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said nearly 400 residents attended those meetings in Greenwood and Martinsville, which were the public's first chance to see the paths being considered for the I-69 section that will link Martinsville and Indianapolis.
Indiana 37, which federal and state officials identified in 2004 as the best possible route to complete the roughly 142-mile extension, is among the alternative routes. But Wingfield said INDOT will weigh all 14 potential routes as it pushes toward its goal of announcing a preferred route for the highway's sixth and final segment in early 2017.
The first half of the Evansville-to-Indianapolis I-69 extension opened in 2012, and runs 67 miles from near Evansville at Interstate 64 to near Crane southwest of Bloomington. Construction is underway on a section between Crane and Bloomington that's expected to open late this year.
And Wingfield said the Bloomington-to-Martinsville segment that's upgrading part of Indiana 37 is tentatively expected to be finished in late 2016.
Continuing the I-69 extension along the Indiana 37 corridor and tying it into Interstate 465 loop on Indianapolis' south side would be among the most direct routes to the city. But the other options being weighed would route I-69 to Interstate 70 southwest of Indianapolis or to Interstate 65 south of the city.
Each approach would use several configurations, and the highway's final stretch would cover between 25 and 42 miles, depending on the chosen route.
Wingfield said INDOT will hold more public meetings late this year to pinpoint "a few of the routes for a very detailed study" in anticipation of announcing the recommended route in early 2017.
"We're studying each of these in greater levels of detail as we move along toward recommending those worth advancing for further study," he said.
INDOT expects federal approval for the section's route to come in 2018, Wingfield said, but at this point, there's no timeline for construction and INDOT hasn't determined how it will pay for the final section.
Tentative survey work will intensify in the coming weeks and over the summer along the Indiana 37 corridor, including assessments of wetlands, historical and archaeological sites and habitats that might harbor endangered species.
Wingfield said that work is being done because Indiana 37 — based on its 2004 identification as the best possible route — will be among the final routes INDOT considers when it decides which one to recommend.
Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers revoked a 2004 law that would have barred the highway from passing through southern Marion County's Perry Township. That law would have prevented I-69 from using Indiana 37 to link up with I-465.
State Rep. John Price, who authored the measure revoking that law, said state planners needed to be able to consider every possible option for the highway. The Greenwood Republican also said the highway would bring economic development benefits by following Indiana 37 through Johnson County, a portion of which he represents.
"There's an impact anywhere you go and there's going to be folks who don't want that. I respect their opinion, but that's why we need to let the professionals at INDOT make the decision based on what they think is best," he said.