Midstate Corridor project gets study

It excludes portion between I-64, U.S. 231

The Indiana Department of Transportation has finalized an agreement with the Midstate Regional Development Authority to begin studying a project that could connect two interstates in southern Indiana north of Owensboro and extend the U.S. 231 corridor.

But the project, which was part of the proposed Midstate Corridor extending I-69 from Michigan along U.S. 231 through Owensboro to I-165 and I-65 near Nashville, excludes the portion of U.S. 231 between I-64 and the Ohio River. Although that stretch of road is a four-lane highway, it is not limited access and would not meet the minimum federal interstate standards needed to create north-south interstate connectivity through Owensboro.

According to IDOT, only an unpaved portion of highway between I-69 and I-64 through Jasper and Huntingburg in Indiana will be part of a three-year Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement needed to apply federal funds to any future project.

Whether that’s good news or bad news, it still has lasting implications on Owensboro and Daviess County. If the project spurs more work along U.S. 231, it could mean interstate spur projects like I-165 or a proposed I-169 aren’t the only access the county has to the federal interstate system. A true freeway with interstate-to-interstate access could take shape along that four-lane corridor and connect Owensboro industry to the transnational shipping corridor. It could also mean Indiana officials have no interest in improving U.S. 231 between the Ohio River and I-64, meaning the highway north of Owensboro will not meet interstate standards anytime soon.

That’s been Mayor Tom Watson’s concern for a while. He has said interstate improvements in Evansville and Henderson and between Louisville and Bowling Green leave Owensboro on a cul-de-sac. The Midstate Corridor is, or was, the only proposed project that could put an end to that.

Still, Watson said he believes it is a positive step in the right direction. The Midstate Corridor has been a backburner project for too long, he said. The last leg of highway between I-64 and I-69 in Indiana could provide the federal government the evidence it needs to take an entirely new interstate project more seriously.

“We’ve talked about this for 26 or 27 years,” Watson said. “This is a tremendous start because the project has been dormant for so long. I’m happy about it because it’s a positive step in the right direction.”

It took local government and public-private partnerships to garner enough noise and support for the project to get to this week’s announcement. Legislation passed in Indiana last year allowed local governments to create regional development authorities that could partner with the state on broad-scale projects. Indiana state Sen. Mark Messmer, who first proposed that legislation alongside state Rep. Mike Braun, said projects like this were exactly what he envisioned.

“I am excited to see this agreement reached between INDOT and the Midstate RDA,” he said. “We envisioned a process that will allow local government to partner with private industry to help advance regional infrastructure projects across the state.”

The Midstate Corridor RDA will provide $7 million through a combination of funds committed at the county and municipal levels and through private sector participation to cover costs of the environmental study. Almost $4 million comes from private corporations, who have long sought interstate access routes, not unlike Owensboro and Daviess County. Watson, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and local economic development officials have lobbied officials in Indiana and Washington for consideration on future highway development plans.

Watson said he believes he has the support of many of those private donors, who may emphasize the need of I-64 and Ohio River connectivity, too.