9:13am

Wed July 13, 2011
The Commonwealth

I-69 Backers Lobbying for Funds

Completing Interstate 69 from Indiana to Texas is edging closer to reality, but advocates of the project want to keep it on the forefront in order to secure financing. Several speakers representing agencies and legislators championing the I-69 project talked about the importance of the roadway during a Madisonville-Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce After Hours-Hot Topic event held at the Eddie Ballard Convention Center on Tuesday night.

Interstate 69 is a multi-state highway linking the Canadian and Mexican borders. The first segment of the interstate already runs from Indianapolis to Port Huron, Mich. Completion of the road southwest to Texas is expected to spur the economy, creating 27,000 jobs between Houston and Indianapolis and bringing in $11 billion in wages through 2025.

“We build roads to move people and goods,” said Ted Merryman, Kentucky Transportation Department I-69 Project Manager. “When you have the highways to move people and goods, then you are certainly going to increase the opportunity for economic development in the community.”

Kentucky plans to utilize the Pennyrile and Western Kentucky parkways the state built in the 1960s and bring them up to federal interstate standards for I-69, Merryman explained.

All but 10 miles of a 160-mile stretch of I-69 will be along the existing parkway. The remaining 10 miles will be an approach and a new bridge over the Ohio River connecting southern Indiana to about one mile east of Henderson, he said.

Building a new bridge is crucial to the project, said Evan Beck, board chairman for the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana.

“Without a bridge, I-69 is nothing more than a glorified cul de sac in the southwestern portion of the state of Indiana,” Beck said.

Beck has worked closely with the Chamber Leadership Initiatives of Northwest Kentucky and other coalitions to make the bridge a reality. C-LINK and Hoosier Voices for I-69 recently hired lobbyist Appian Advisors of Indianapolis to promote and find funding sources for the bridge.

Though the bridge is considered a long-term project, other I-69 related projects are well underway in Kentucky and Indiana.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 2 Madisonville is working on bringing four parkway interchanges up to interstate standards, said chief engineer Kevin McClearn. These include two interchanges in Hopkins County — at Kentucky 109 in Dawson Springs and at 813 in Mortons Gap.

The project at Kentucky 109 in Dawson Springs is in the design stage, McClearn said. All four stages of the project — design, right of way, utilities and construction — have been funded.

The Indiana Transportation Cabinet has 65 miles of roadway under construction between Evansville and Crane, Ind., said Sam Sarvis, Indiana Department of Transportation Project Manager for I-69. The road is expected to be open to traffic next year, he said.

Speaker Ken Canter talked about the importance of strengthening all types of transportation in the western Kentucky region. Canter is the executive director with the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority.

The Riverport Authority will soon be seeking foreign trade zone status for western Kentucky, Canter said. The status is critical for the importing and exporting of goods for distribution and manufacturing.

Canter called this another reason for I-69.

“We all need each other if we are going to prosper,” Canter said, “and we are all in it for economic development.”

Several speakers echoed the sentiment that attaining state and federal funding for I-69 is critical for bringing jobs to the region.

“We’re not going to get national support unless they believe and we convince them that there is strong state support for this project,” said Kentucky Sen. Jerry Rhoads.

The senator said it has been a challenge in Frankfort to generate support for I-69 because it is also competing with the Louisville bridge project, he said. The challenge is to keep I-69 high on the radar screen, Rhoads said.

“We are going to build I-69 through Kentucky,” said Michael Pape, speaking on behalf of U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield.

Tate asked those in attendance to plan a trip to Washington, D.C. Whitfield’s office is helping organize a day where as many people as possible show how important I-69 is to them by talking in person with the congressional transportation committee and other members of congress. The target date will likely be early or mid-September.

“We want to storm the hill and talk about the importance of this project to our nation and the economic impact this has for our nation,” Pape said. “Not just our states, but to our country and to bringing America back on a sound financial track.”