A group of local community members dedicated to creating a corridor to connect U.S. 231 to Interstate 69 is beginning to solicit support from the public.
Hank Menke, president of OFS Brands in Huntingburg and a member of the board of directors of the newly formed Interstate 67 Development Corp., came before the Dubois County commissioners Monday to outline plans for the road.
The development corporation, formed in September, is a group of individuals from throughout the area who intend to solicit donations and support to create a corridor to run from Nashville, Tenn., to a future extension of I-69. The current plan would connect U.S. 231 to I-69 in Washington by building a 38-mile corridor beginning where U.S. 231 intersects I-64 in Spencer County.
Menke said the group has been “under the radar” because plans are still tentative. He said he does not know whether the final plans will show U.S. 231 going east or west around Jasper and Huntingburg.
The first step in the process for the group is to perform a traffic study and an economic impact study to present to the Indiana Department of Transportation. Menke said the cost for those studies, which may total $200,000, most likely will be paid with private community donations, which he is working to collect.
The group will contract with Barb Sloan, Midwest regional manager for transportation planning and management at Cambridge Systematics out of Chicago, to perform the studies. Menke said this phase is set to be completed by April.
So far, the City of Washington has donated $50,000 to the cause, and Menke will appear before the Dubois County Council at 5:30 p.m. Monday to ask for more funding.
He said the I-67 project is imperative to the economic growth of the county.
“What I’m concerned about is, if we’re not careful in this county, we’re going to be looking from the outside in and not the inside out,” Menke told the commissioners. “I can’t think of a more important thing we could do as a county than get plugged in to a road going north.”
Menke said his company’s trucks often skirt U.S. 231 by heading east on I-64 and connecting to I-65 to get to Indianapolis. He said the extra mileage costs his company about $250,000 annually.
“Our company avoids it (U.S. 231); Kimball avoids it; MasterBrand (Cabinets) avoids it; Meyer Logistics avoids it. Because it’s a hazardous road,” he told the commissioners.
Menke said the upcoming traffic study will extend all the way south to Bowling Green, Ky. A previous study by INDOT showed there was not enough traffic on U.S. 231 near Jasper to warrant a road project, but Menke said taking Kentucky into account may change the results.
County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg expressed a concern that INDOT would not follow through on the I-67 project even after the county spends thousands of dollars on the studies. Menke acknowledged that INDOT has not promised to do so.
Menke said he has met with Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand and Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, who act as advisers to the development corporation’s board. He has spoken with U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, Rep. Larry Bucshon, INDOT Commissioner Brian Nicol, Washington mayor-elect Joe Wellman and representatives of Radius Indiana in French Lick and from Sen, Richard Lugar’s and Sen. Dan Coats’ offices. He plans to meet with officials from Owensboro and Bowling Green in the near future.
He added that community response has been positive.
Joining Menke on the I-67 Development Corp. board of directors are Wellman of Washington, John Kahle, executive vice president and general counsel for Kimball International, Dan Koch, president of Holiday World, Greg Stoner, president of MasterBrand Cabinets, Terry Seitz, mayor-elect of Jasper, Denny Spinner, mayor-elect of Huntingburg, Travis McQueen, manager of Huntingburg Airport, David Holt, vice president of operations and business development for Conexus Indiana, and Mike Braun, principal of Meyer Logistics.
Menke said the board is growing, and he hopes representatives from Owensboro and Bowling Green will be added soon.
He explained that the plan will take advantage of “assets we have already spent millions on,” such as the proposed I-69 route from Washington to Indianapolis.
“I won’t see it (I-67) in my lifetime, but I hope to make a difference to my children and grandchildren someday,” Menke said.