Dubois County is the first to agree to be part of a regional development authority whose goal is to get a bypass road built that would ultimately connect Dubois County to I-69.
The Dubois County Council agreed Monday to join the group.
“This looks like it might be our last best shot to get this road,” Council President Jerry Hunefeld said.
Attorney Bill Kaiser, representing the Midstate Corridor, presented the idea to the Dubois County Council Monday afternoon. He said that he will approach Huntingburg and Jasper officials later this month about joining the authority; he was scheduled to talk to Spencer County officials Tuesday.
The State Legislature passed a bill this year that allows municipalities participating in a regional development authority to create a fund specifically for regional infrastructure projects and contribute local money to those funds. The legislation also permits these RDAs to apply for federal FASTLANE grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which fund road and bridge projects. The bill was developed and authored by State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, and supported locally by governments and businesses, including the Midstate Corridor group.
The Midstate Corridor group has been working to get a four-lane, limited-access highway that would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, go around Huntingburg and Jasper and continue north to connect to I-69. That corridor would ease traffic on U.S. 231 between I-64 and I-69 through Dubois, Martin and Spencer counties, organizers have said.
The 22-member Midstate Corridor group includes representatives from local municipalities whose goal is to get the road built. They have done studies and appealed to the state to complete the road.
In 2014, the corridor was named a Tier 2 project by the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission, a committee that determined which transportation projects needed to be done and when they should be completed. Tier 2 projects are targeted for completion in six to eight years, pending financing.
Several county officials at Monday’s meeting said they were concerned that the authority could use the money on infrastructure projects other than the road.
“I don’t like that it’s wide open,” Commissioner Chad Blessinger said. “But, the council can still say it won’t fund it.”
According to the statute, Hunefeld said, funding “can also be used for a regional trail, greenway projects, intermodal transportation projects ... We just want it for the highway.”
A five-member authority board would have to approve what funding is used for, Kaiser explained. Those members are chosen by the municipalities involved in the authority, though they can’t be elected officials, he said.
Councilwoman Charmian Klem said she wants to make sure the authority will use money only for the Midstate Corridor project.
“Down the road, once this project is done, I want this to be over,” she said. “I don’t want to see this turn into something where they just pick (other) projects. I want to protect those taxpayers’ dollars that are going into this funding, if it gets that far.” That can be stipulated as the authority’s function, Kaiser said.
Kaiser and representatives from the county and Midstate Corridor group will meet with INDOT officials in September to discuss the road project. His goal is to have Dubois, Spencer, Jasper and Huntingburg on board with the authority.
“We want to tell INDOT that we are ready to go and ask what is it INDOT wants from us,” he said, “what next steps we need to take. We’re at the very beginning of this process.”