BEDFORD — INDOT has selected its "preferred route" for the controversial Mid-States Corridor Project.

"Alternative P" has been identified as the project's preferred route. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) has also been released to the public. The document can be viewed online.

The purpose of the DEIS is to provide an overview of the project's study process, analysis and subsequent findings. It also examines possible economic and environmental factors related to the project. 

Hard copies can also be found at the Bedford Public Library on 1323 K St. and the Mitchell Community Public Library, 804 W. Main St. 

"Alternative P has the lowest impacts to environmental resources, the lowest cost among the three alternatives and comparably low level of impacts to several key resources with the smallest impacts to wetlands and no impacts to karst features," reads a statement from the Mid-States Corridor website

Mid-States Corridor: INDOT's preferred route discussed during town hall in Mitchell.

Route P begins in Spencer County at U.S. 231 until it reaches Interstate 64. It then extends through Dubois County, eventually connecting to I-69 through the U.S. 231 interchange. The route passes to the east of Huntingburg and Jasper by continuing northward. The 54-mile-long route briefly passes Loogootee to the east before winding its way to I-69 in Martin County.

Project background

The Mid-States Corridor Project proposes building a new terrain four-lane highway with limited access that would operate from the north of Owensboro, Kentucky, through Dubois County to connect to I-69 in Indiana.

Five possible corridors were assessed for the project: B, C, M, O and P. These routes were released as part of a “Screening of Alternatives Report.” The report and each option were presented by INDOT and the Mid-States Regional Development Authority team in February 2020 at public meetings.

Related: INDOT tabs 'preferred route' for controversial Mid-States Corridor through SW Indiana.

Route M would have traveled north, passing Huntingburg and Jasper to the east before joining with State Road 37 near Bedford. Environmental advocates and residents voiced their opposition to this route due to concerns that it would expand into Martin State Forest and Hoosier National Forest. 

The Mid-States Corridor initially began when the Indiana Department of Transportation started to explore possible ways to upgrade U.S. 231 in Huntingburg and Jasper to reduce the amount of congestion and traffic there. Since then, the project has evolved into the form of a brand-new, four-lane expressway that many residents, local businesses and property owners do not want to see constructed. 

Those in favor of the large construction project say it will bring more economic development into counties throughout southwestern Indiana, boost local tourism and provide more transportation options. 

Critics argue that the new roadways will displace farmland and private property, impose financial burdens on taxpayers and hurt the economies of small towns in its path such as Paoli and Orleans.

Those who are against the project also claim that southern Indiana does not suffer from a lack of transportation options. State Road 37 already exists, traveling north to south. It also offers commuters a chance to connect to I-69 in Bloomington. There is also U.S.  150, which offers routes east and west.

Local DEIS reaction 

Mark Nowotarski, a member of a local grassroots group called the Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor, is a vocal opponent of the project. 

According to Nowotarski, the $75 million U.S. 231 Project contradicts the entire purpose of the separate Mid-States Corridor Project. Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in June funding for improvements to U.S. 231 will be separate from the Mid-States Corridor Project. 

Nowotarski and several other concerned residents are in favor of seeing improvements being added to the existing U.S. 231 interchange instead of having a completely brand new route built parallel to it. 

Others are reading: INDOT's pick for Mid-States Corridor route could cause nearly 150 'relocations'.

"It just bothers me personally and I think a lot of other people that why would they work on those improvements and then also be spending all this money just to put in a highway that parallels 231 and just bypasses Jasper, Huntingburg and Loogootee," Nowotarski said. 

Nowotarski said he and others are frustrated that the DEIS was released to the public on Easter Weekend and that the two public hearings are scheduled to commence so quickly.

"We need more time. We need more public hearings and we probably need extended time to submit our written comments," Nowotarski said. 

The first public hearing is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at WestGate Academy in Odon. The next hearing will take place on April 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Jasper Arts Center on the Vincennes University Jasper Campus. People can also submit written comments via email or by directly writing to the project office. The DEIS formal comment period ends May 31, 2022. 

A major concern of the announcement is whether or not INDOT will be required to relocate homes, businesses and properties that are located in the direct path of the preferred route. 

Alternative P could relocate between 109 and 149 residences, businesses and farms. 

"No person displaced by this project will be required to move from a displaced dwelling unless comparable replacement housing is available and within the financial means of that person," reads a statement from the Tier 1 DEIS.

According to the DEIS, Route P recorded higher levels in every land-use category compared to routes B and C. These are "forests", "agriculture", "developed" and "other." 

Nowotarski has a personal interest in the project alongside other residents concerned by the prospect of losing their homes or businesses. He and his wife moved to Jasper a couple of years ago to build their retirement home. 

"My physical property won't be affected. However, I'm going to have a highway that is probably somewhere between a quarter of a mile and at the most, a half-mile away from my home," he said. "So, you're talking road noise, you're talking destruction of this area. It's an absolutely beautiful rolling hill, wooded area that is going to be mowed down for another road."

© 2022, Bedford, IN.