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Questions, delays remain for I-69 project in central Indiana

August 16, 2016

State officials are continuing to finalize the route for the final leg of the Interstate 69 extension project in central Indiana while concerns remain over delays in completing work on another section.

Residents and business owners gathered Monday at an Indianapolis school to ask questions about the state's process for buying land for the planned I-69 route following the current Indiana 37 corridor between Martinsville and Interstate 465.

Those property owners won't know for several months what impact they'll see from the project as Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said its review of how much land is needed for the highway is set for completion next spring.

Construction delays, meanwhile, on the 21-mile I-69 section being built between Bloomington and Martinsville prompted Fitch Ratings earlier this month to lower the $244 million in bonds for that project to its "speculative" category.

The Indiana Finance Authority selected I-69 Development Partners LLC as the private developer of that stretch, with the state paying $80 million up front and making annual payments of $21.8 million a year for 35 years, with possible adjustments for inflation. Work started in 2014 and was originally slated for completion by the end of 2016.

Fitch said it believes the revised June 2017 completion date "will be challenging to meet" because the main contractor is about $30 million behind in expected expenditures.

Officials with the state highway department and the developer reassured Monroe County leaders during a meeting in Bloomington last week that the bond downgrade, while bad news for investors, is not expected to cause further delays to the project, The Bloomington Herald-Times reported.

"We believe (at this time) that our design-build contractor has the capability to meet this schedule," said Gary Vandegriff, operations and maintenance manager for I-69 Development Partners.

Monroe County Plan Commission member Richard Martin said he had doubts about the Bloomington-to-Martinsville section being done on time.

"It's quite clear that the pace has slowed compared to when work initially started," Martin said. "I would have expected to see more crews doing more things in more places at this time if you're going to meet a June 2017 completion."

Sections of the I-69 extension have opened since 2012 between Evansville and Bloomington through southwestern Indiana.

Questions about the exact route for the final leg north of Martinsville have residents in a waiting game. Construction on the last section is expected to take two to seven years, depending on the design and how quickly funding is acquired.

Vann Sanders, 29, of Martinsville, said the 10 acres he lives on along Indiana 37 will most likely be bought for the highway project but he can't yet make plans.

"I don't want to lose my home, you know. That's where I was going to start a family and everything," he told The Indianapolis Star. "Well, can't really do that yet because it's probably going to be gone, probably going to have to wait."

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