JASPER — COVID-19 and increased federal requirements for including a study of proposed improvements for U.S. 231 have delayed Lochmueller Group’s completion of the Tier 1 phase of the Mid-States Corridor project study by a year, but an initial recommendation on a potential route for the highway is anticipated in April.

Meanwhile, opponents of the project asked the Dubois County Council to take a long look at the negative impact of a new-terrain highway in the county.

Regional Development Authority spokesmen Bill Kaiser and Mark Schroeder told the council Monday that after the engineering firm’s recommendation is made and environmental impact study is completed, the public input process begins, with another six months of assimilating those comments.

The $6.5 million study commissioned in 2019 to examine possibilities for improving existing roads, new terrain modification or all-new terrain, was funded jointly by Spencer and Dubois Counties and the cities of Huntingburg and Jasper.

Initially, 10 potential routes with 28 alternatives were considered, then narrowed town to five routes with 10 options in Dubois County, either via U.S. 231, or west or east of Huntingburg and Jasper. Kaiser told the council that after a route recommendation is made, the type of road would be determined in the Tier 2 phase of the study.

“Sometime in the late fourth quarter of 2022, we could see the final environmental impact statement, which will be a jumping off point to what happens next,” Kaiser told the council.

“The RDA has never been the proponent for a particular route...” said Kaiser, explaining the appointed board’s role is as a proponent for improved connectivity from Interstate 64 to Interstate 69. “There are some other groups that are advocating for or against, and that’s their right and probably they should...but the RDA has stayed neutral on this and we will stay neutral,” he said. “Once a preferred route is announced, that’s when we will pivot,” he explained.

The delays in the study brought additional costs that Indiana Department of Transportation agreed to absorb, he said. “We’re still always going to have U.S. 231 going through Huntingburg and Jasper,” he said. “Whether or not we need additional roadway or an expanded roadway, we’ll see in April.”

Kaiser said no one knows about the cost of the road, but estimated the second study would take about two years, provided it’s funded.

Mark Nowotarski of the Coalition Against The Mid-States Corridor reminded the council the organization has gathered petitions with more than 7,000 signatures. He said opponents to the project have had “very little success” in talking with state and federal officials, but asked the council to research the negative impact to farmers, displaced homes, climate, the future cost of maintaining a new terrain highway and other factors. “Studies have shown how small and mid-sized towns suffer when bypass terrain is put in,” he said.

The coalition has over 7,000 signatures all agreeing that the economic study that supports the Mid-State Corridor project was without factual evidence. The coalition is trying to protect small, mid-sized towns, farms and other businesses from the damage that could be done with the progression of the new highway.
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