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Daviess Co. leaders drum up interest in I-67 plan

Business leaders in Owensboro, Kentucky and Dubois County have built a coalition to build what they call I-67.

By Mike Grant
The Associated Press

9/11/2013

MIKE GRANT, Washington Times-Herald

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Washington Times-Herald.

WASHINGTON, Ind.  — When Interstate 69 opened last year Daviess County got its first link into the nation's interstate system. Now, a proposal is being discussed that would add yet another interstate link to the county.

Business leaders in Owensboro, Kentucky and Dubois County have built a coalition to build what they call I-67. The road would link into I-69 near Washington, extend south through Jasper and Owensboro and eventually link up with I-65 at Bowling Green, Ky.

Coalition members are excited about the proposal and want to see it become a reality. "We've been working on this for a number of years," coalition member Hank Menke told the Washington Times-Herald (http://bit.ly/13LRvv9 ). "Right now it's a long shot, but we have to look at the big picture."

That picture could turn into one of the less expensive interstate construction projects in history. The Bowling Green-to-Owensboro leg would involve upgrading the Natcher Parkway to interstate standards. The bridge over the Ohio was already built to those standards. Engineering on the improved US 231 to I-64 has already been completed and the road could be improved to an interstate. That leaves a 38 mile "green build" section from 64 to Washington.

"This is really a cost-effective project," said Menke. "It takes a lot of assets that we already have and enhances them. It has picked up a lot of steam."

The link into I-69 in Washington has led to the involvement of some Daviess County officials. "I believe it deserves a lot of study," said Washington Mayor Joe Wellman, who is also a coalition member. "If it connects in here, it would be a good thing for us."

Private interests along the route have already had a $200,000 study done of the Washington-to-Bowling Green corridor. The Cambridge Systematics study concluded the road would draw a minimum of 16,000 vehicles a day, make for safer travel, provide an alternate route south so that I-65 traffic could avoid Louisville, and lead to more economic development.

"We think that study sent a serious message to the state," said Menke. "Historically, we've been isolated. What we lack is basic infrastructure, and this road would help solve that."

The backers of the I-67 proposal say they know they still have to fall in line while I-69 is completed. The section from Crane to SR 37 is due to be done late next year. A new bridge still has to built over the Ohio River at Evansville and SR 37 needs to be improved to interstate standards between Bloomington and Indianapolis. "We support I-69," said Menke. "We just want to get plugged into it. That's my mission."

The coalition has already taken its pitch to Indianapolis, Frankfort and Washington, D.C. "It does have some support with elected officials," said Wellman.

"We realize right now there is no money to build this road," added Menke. "We're going to have to be creative. People recognize tolls may be needed."

What people may not recognize is that the road would once again carve up part of northern Dubois and southern Daviess counties.

"We are getting some concern expressed about that, especially in Dubois County," said Menke.

"The area in Daviess County appears to mostly be old coal mine land between Alfordsville and Washington," said Wellman. "Anytime you have a project of this magnitude, you will have people for and against it. We have to look at the big picture."

Right now the state of Indiana is not looking closely at the I-67 picture.

"It isn't a committed INDOT project," said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield. "We're still in the middle of the construction boom we began when the state leased the toll road."

That could change in the future, but INDOT is making no commitments. "We review projects throughout the state and look at the need," said Wingfield. "We're willing to talk to any group and take their information under consideration."

Coalition members in Indiana believe they may have a key supporter in their corner. Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann is from Ferdinand and is very familiar with the project.

"The stars may be aligning for this," said Menke. "Economically, this is a huge deal. This is a chance to attract industry, maintain our lifestyle and keep our kids at home."

Information from: Washington Times-Herald, http://www.washtimesherald.com


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