Proposed new-terrain highway threatens forests, karst and wildlife.
The Wesley Chapel Gulf (pictured above) is a 1,000 acre sinkhole — a national natural landmark — that could be impacted by Route O of the Mid-States highway. All photos by Steven Higgs
On April 15, 2022, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) announced that Route P has been preliminarily selected as the route for the Mid-States Corridor highway. Route P generally follows US 231 north from I-64, bypassing Jasper and Huntingburg to the east and Loogootee to the west, ending at the I-69/US 231 interchange. It would be built as a wholly “new-terrain” highway covering 54 miles. Whether this new highway is built as a four-lane expressway or two-lane road would be determined in the second phase of project planning, known as Tier 2.
Route P does not have the same level of environmental harm as Routes O and M which traveled through Orange and Martin Counties, but it is still a very damaging and poorly justified project. Even though Route P has been preliminarily identified as the preferred highway route, Routes O and M are still in play until the final decision is announced.
What did our natural resource and environmental agencies have to say about the Mid-States highway?
Indiana DNR’s March 27, 2020 comment letter stated, “It is strongly recommended that few new highways be created, while existing highways and major roads are enhanced.”
And, a DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife comment letter of September 12, 2019, said, “Road edges increase air pollution, soil erosion, noise, disturbance by human activity, and exotic species introductions, and may induce population changes in the vegetation ad animal communities included in the areas of edge influence. These factors combine to create particularly deleterious habitat situations, and endanger the existence and perpetuation of all native species on the landscape.”
Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s September 12, 2019 comment letter stated, “IDEM prefers alternatives that restrict as much of the project as possible to existing road alignments as the best option for avoiding and minimizing impacts to waters.”
Economic and Social Impacts
Because Route P includes bypasses around Jasper, Huntingburg and Loogootee, local businesses in their downtown areas will lose access to commuters and travelers who now use existing US 231.
Even though Route P performs slightly better in meeting the project’s core goals — increased accessibility to major business markets; more efficient truck travel; and increased access to multimodal centers — than other routes, its benefits are very limited and narrowly focused on truck travel. The maximum travel time savings from Jasper to Indianapolis is 5 minutes off of a 143 mile trip. Travel time reductions to other destinations are even less. Overall, Route P will reduce total annual truck travel hours by only 1%, compared to not building a new-terrain highway.
Route P would accomplish little in meeting other goals, such as improved safety in the 12-county study region, or improvement of the local or regional economies. Reduced vehicle crash costs were only measured for the local road improvements that are included in the project. The predicted potential economic improvements, such as better access to the workforce for regional employers, higher population growth, or a reduction in poverty, are not compared to other existing or potential strategies such as improvements in housing, workforce development, or quality of life, that may cost less or come with less environmental and private property damage. Nor does the DEIS demonstrate convincingly that any such economic improvements will actually result from building the highway.
To summarize, Route P’s main benefit would be as a truck/freight corridor, and even for this benefit Route P does not perform very well.
The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Mid-States project is the source of the project information provided here.
Read HEC’s comments on the draft environmental statement.
What is the Mid-States Corridor Project?
The Mid-States Corridor Project is a proposed new-terrain highway connecting Rockport, Indiana to Interstate 69. It would utilize existing US 231 from Rockport to I-64, then bypass Huntingburg and Jasper and reach I-69 in one of three directions: northwest, due north, or northeast.
Preparation of a Tier 1 environmental impact statement (EIS) is underway. The original release timeline — Fall of 2020 — for the draft EIS has been pushed back. Release of the draft EIS will be followed by a formal public comment period and public meetings. Once the public comments are considered, and any further project changes made, a Final Environmental Impact Statement will be published along with a Record of Decision that selects the final preferred highway route, in the form of a 2,000-foot wide corridor. The next stage — if the project goes forward — would be a Tier 2 EIS that would identify and analyze the exact on-the-ground alignment of the highway within the 2,000-foot wide corridor selected in Tier 1. For the Tier 2 process, the route may be subdivided into sections and a separate Tier 2 EIS prepared for each section. For example, for the new-terrain I-69 project, the final route was evaluated in six separate Tier 2 environmental studies. Construction cannot start until the Tier 2 process — either for a section or the entire route — is completed.
The draft EIS is expected to examine 10 highway alternatives along 5 route corridors and select one of these alternatives as the preferred alternative. The total length of the 10 alternatives ranges from 56 to 101 miles. Miles of new-terrain roadway range from 34 miles to 62 miles in length, beginning at the I-64/US 231 interchange south of Huntingburg. The northern endpoint of the project depends on the corridor selected. The options are: I-69 at Washington, I-69 at US 231, or I-69 at Bloomington via SR 37 from Bedford or Mitchell. The 10 alternatives include different types of highway design — freeway, expressway, or super 2 — within the 5 corridors.
The construction cost estimates for these alternatives range from $300 million to $1.47 billion.