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Ohio company wins I-69 contract


By Samantha Schmidt



The Indiana Department of Transportation has awarded a construction contract for about four miles of Interstate 69 between Harmony Road and a branch of Clear Creek, the first section of the highway entirely in Monroe County.

The winning bid of $57.5 million, belonging to E.S. Wagner Company from Toledo, Ohio, was 16 percent lower than the engineer’s cost estimate, according to a press release.

Seven different companies competed for the bid.

INDOT spokeswoman Cher Elliott said several other bids fell below the cost estimate, but the winning bid was the lowest. Elliot attributed the low bids to the competitive market for construction contracting in the state.

“All of our projects statewide have this trend, with the economy the way it is,” Elliot said.

This specific stretch of the highway corresponds to Segment 8 of Section 4 of the 142-mile corridor expected to connect Evansville to Indianapolis, according to the press release.

65 miles between Evansville and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center are currently under construction and expected to open at the end of 2012. 

The construction has been a debated issue for about two decades. It was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in March 2004 after the release of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study.

Both Section 4 and Section 5 of the interstate will fall in Monroe County, said Josh Desmond, director of the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Section 4, which consists of 27 miles between Crane and State Road 37, should be open to traffic at the end of 2014.

The next portion of Section 4, Segment 9, opened for bid Sunday, Elliot said.

Desmond estimates the plans and environmental documents for Section 5, which extends north to Martinsville, will be completed by the middle of next year.

I-69 construction is funded through a mix of federal and state dollars as well as proceeds from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road, Desmond said.

“There was $700 million set aside to do Sections 1, 2 and 3,” Elliot said.

Due to lower contract bids, $100 million was not spent on the first three sections and was transferred to Section 4 funding. Remaining Section 4 funds are generated through federal and state gas tax revenue.

Elliot said INDOT believes the state will benefit from increased mobility and safety.

“It is proven through business studies that industries migrate to states with interstate functionality,” Elliot said. “Time is money, and it’s very important that we have that accessibility.”

Bill Williams, director of Monroe County Highway Engineering, said the new highway will be a major safety improvement for people traveling north from Evansville.

“The roads are very curvy, and there’s a lot of truck traffic,” Williams said.

Desmond said Bloomington residents are currently more concerned about the negative effects than the benefits. Opponents have addressed concerns regarding environmental damage, increased volume of traffic and the acquisition of homes in affected areas.

The whole southwest region of the county contains large quantities of underground limestone formations called karst.

“They are very sensitive, and running roads over them could be really harmful,” Desmond said.

Elliot said INDOT makes it a priority to address environmental concerns and shift highway alignment as much as possible to minimize the impact of the construction on the surrounding area. Several bridges with self-contained drainage networks are being built to avoid wetlands and other wildlife. 

Segment 8 will be constructed on completely new terrain, Elliot said. The connection to State Road 37 in Segment 9 will create the most significant impact to daily traffic.

Desmond said construction will put stress on local roads as people travel to the interchanges.

“The investment the state makes will have to cause (Bloomington) to make investments to support the local traffic that will result,” Desmond said.

Regarding the properties that have been acquired for the construction, Elliot said INDOT’s standard practice is to assign two separate property appraisals for each home. If the owner refuses the offer, the state will have to proceed to a condemnation process.

Elliot said INDOT does not at any point want to resort to condemnation. 

“We want to do the best we can to minimize those problems,” Elliot said. “We’re not just out there building a road at all costs.”

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