(BLOOMINGTON) - The Monroe County Fairgrounds community room was packed with at least 100 people Thursday night who gathered to address the plans for the next I-69 section connecting Bloomington and Martinsville.
The Indiana Department of Transportation presented the public hearing on the Tier 2 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a detailed evaluation of the preferred alternative route for the highway and its compliance with environmental and legal concerns.
The Section 5 corridor is 21 miles long and upgrades the existing State Road 37 to interstate standards, INDOT spokesperson Will Wingfield said.
In the community room, INDOT representatives guided attendees through the maps and diagrams that detailed the construction plans in different regions of the preferred Section 5 route.
A comment area in the center of the room allowed community members to submit opinions, which can also be submitted online or by mail until Jan. 2, Section 5 Team Manager Mary Jo Hamman said.
"All of the comments we receive are reviewed and will be documented in the final decision as INDOT moves forward," Hamman said.
The discussed Section 5 meets where Section 4 ends in Bloomington, a stretch that is expected to open by 2014.
"Once Section 4 opens, there's going to be a lot of traffic," Wingfield said. "We're working on getting out the safety improvements needed to take I-37 to interstate
Hamman said the preferred alternative described in the draft reduces the environmental and financial costs by building on existing infrastructure.
"We're looking at reusing the existing pavement out there today," Hamman said. "That will reduce cost and construction time."
In the corner of the community room, a banner that read "Save it, don't pave it" marked the booth belonging to Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads. CARR representative
Thomas Tokarski gave an opposing statement during the forum.
"It's time for a time-out on I-69," Tokarski said. "Many things have changed since this highway was proposed 22 years ago. Indiana cannot maintain the roads and bridges it already has."
All public comments were limited to two minutes and were regulated by a large stoplight, which provided yellow and red lights to warn speakers of time restraints.
Police officers stood at the entrance of the auditorium, overseeing the public comment portion.
Several speakers voiced concerns about funding the next section of I-69.
"We hear a lot of talk about this fiscal cliff," said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. "It is our own fiscal cliff as we continue to plan for I-69 but not on how to pay for it."
INDOT has planned a route that will attempt to minimize the residence displacements, Hamman said. For the preferred alternative, an estimated 150 residencies, 32 businesses and one church will potentially be displaced, Hamman said.
Martinsville resident Melissa Schiff said she owns seven businesses in Martinsville that are listed as potentially displaced properties.
"If you lose your property right now you may get enough to pay off your mortgage, but you may not get another mortgage in this environment," Schiff said. "When they pay for your real estate, they don't pay for your loss of business."
Bloomington resident Jim Murphy voiced his appreciation of the proposed safety improvements I-69 could provide. Murphy also gave a personal testimony to the safety concerns. Three years ago this month, an automobile accident killed his mother, sister
"The driver of that vehicle was driving from Evansville," Murphy said. "If this highway had been there at that time, my family would be here today."
Bloomington resident Bruce Storm, a small business owner with 19 children, also said he is an adamant supporter of the highway and the improvement it could provide to economic development.
"As an active realtor, I have my ears to the ground," Storm said. "Southwest Indiana needs this highway. We need to understand the money will come because this project is too important for it not to come."
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