(BLOOMINGTON) - Firefighters are pushing for emergency access gates to be included on a 22-mile stretch of the Interstate 69 extension being built in southern Indiana that won't have interchanges.
Two fire departments that cover parts of rural Monroe County, however, disagree on where the gates should be located along the section between Bloomington and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. Work on the section is expected to begin in the coming months.
Leaders of the Van Buren Township department say its station is staffed around the clock and is just a mile from its suggested I-69 access point. But Indian Creek Township firefighters say most of the I-69 section is in their territory and that the department will increase its staffing with the highway's opening.
While federal highway officials will decide where any access gates will be located, firefighters from both departments said their concern is providing the quickest response to emergencies and that they won't get extra funding for responding to I-69 calls.
"It's for the good of whoever is on that highway, who probably won't be from our township," Dee Owens, president of Indian Creek Firefighters, told The Herald-Times.
Construction work is under way on much of a nearly 70-mile stretch of the highway's route from near Evansville to just outside the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center southwest of Bloomington. That section is expected to be finished by the end of 2012.
The Indiana Department of Transportation's plan for the route between Crane and Bloomington has an interchange just east of the Monroe-Greene county line and the next one at Indiana 37.
Van Buren Township Trustee Rita Barrow said the proposed access gate near the community of Stanford "will give us an opportunity to get onto I-69 a lot faster than what it would if we had to run to 37 or to Greene County to get on."
The Van Buren department includes 11 full-time firefighters along with part-timers and volunteers, while the Indian Creek department relies on volunteers other than one paid staff member on duty during weekday business hours.
Indian Creek officials maintain an access gate should be put where I-69 will cross Rockport Road - near the midpoint on the 22-mile stretch and a short drive from the department's station - and that they would arrange for volunteers to staff the station at all times.
"If INDOT does a study and realizes an access road at Rockport makes more sense, we'd have a year or two to beef up our fire station," said.
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