INDIANAPOLIS — Work on another section of the Interstate 69 extension between Indianapolis and Evansville is expected to begin by April after receiving Federal Highway Administration approval, transportation officials said Wednesday.
The federal agency approved a 26-mile section beginning near U.S. 50 by the city of Washington and ending at U.S. 231 near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Greene County, said Indiana Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cher Goodwin.
Bids to build three overpasses in the new section are due to be opened Feb. 10 and the contracts awarded shortly afterward, meaning work on the bridges likely will begin by April, Goodwin said. Paving of the new section of highway should begin this summer.
INDOT also expects the Federal Highway Administration to approve the third of six sections of the project this spring.
"By spring of 2011 we will have more than 50 miles of new interstate construction going on at one time," Goodwin said.
The federal approval was granted last week but not announced until Wednesday. It represents another victory for the state and other backers of the highway and a new setback for opponents who have charged the road is not needed, largely unfunded and harmful to the environment. Should the FHA approve the third section as expected, the southern 68 miles of the 142-mile project will be approved.
"It doesn't change our views on the project or change the many flaws of the new terrain route," said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. "Along many portions of the route, it's still controversial."
The FHA decision provides federal funds for the new section and approval of its environmental impact statement. It also determined where interchanges will be located and other features.
The only portion of the project open to traffic so far is the southernmost two miles where it joins Interstate 64 northeast of Evansville, Goodwin said.
Maloney said opponents would continue to fight the project even though the FHA has approved nearly half its length. He said the state has not yet found a way to pay for about three-quarters of the $3.1 billion it's projected to cost.
The rising price tag of the extension once forecast to cost $1.3 billion was one of the reasons the environmental council, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan and others asked the FHA in December to increase its oversight of the project. The federal agency turned down the request, saying it already was involved on nearly a daily basis.
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