Thursday, January 12, 2012

Local officials to attend I-67 meeting

12 Jan 2012 — Messenger-Inquirer

BY: By Steve Vied

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly plan to attend today's inaugural meeting of the I-67 Development Corporation Board of Directors, scheduled for 10 a.m. in Huntingburg, Ind., for what could be the beginning of finally putting Owensboro-Daviess County on a true interstate highway.

The I-67 group's goal is the completion of a 38-mile, four-lane interstate highway connecting U.S. 231/I-64 at Dale, Ind., to the proposed I-69 at Washington, Ind., said I-67 board of directors member Hank Menke, president of furniture maker OFS Brands of Huntingburg.

If that new road through Dubois and Daviess counties in Indiana gets built, it would create a continuous four-lane interstate highway running from Washington, Ind., through Owensboro and continuing to Bowling Green by making use of the four-lane U.S. 231, the William H. Natcher Bridge over the Ohio River at Maceo and the William H. Natcher Parkway through Daviess, Ohio, Butler and Warren counties, where it would connect with I-65.

That new route would be named I-67, an idea that excites Payne, who said he has accepted the invitation to be a member of the organization and was looking forward to today's meeting in Huntingburg.

"We're going to try and work with them to see if we can make this happen," Payne said. "I'm really excited about the opportunity. ... It would be one of the biggest things to ever happen to our community to have a interstate run though it."

Mattingly is also a member of the new board, which Menke said will act to continue the work that culminated with the four-laning of U.S. 231 from the Natcher Bridge to I-64. That 22-mile section of road opened last year after nearly 30 years of pushing by Indiana and Kentucky supporters. But there are no plans to continue four-laning U.S. 231 north of I-64, Menke said.

Building an all-new route from Dale to Washington would save his company and others hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, Menke said. He did not say when the project might be completed.

"Basically what I'm trying to do is continue the work started by William Natcher and Bill Koch and get that road up through Dubois County and to Washington," Menke said. "We have this beautiful new road (U.S. 231). Kentucky put in $130 million and Indiana put in $160 million. I say take the road from Bowling Green and Owensboro to I-69. It would greatly benefit Owensboro."

Koch, the founder of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Natcher span and the four-laning of U.S. 231 in Spencer County. He died in 2001.

Menke said I-67 could provide a valuable alternative to I-65 through Louisville, where the closure of the (I-64) Sherman Minton Bridge is causing headaches for businesses and travelers. Menke said his company's 175 tractor-trailer rigs need a better north-south route.

"We have a real problem with traffic in Louisville," he said.

Building the Dubois-Daviess county route could cost $500 million or more, Menke said. But Indiana has already spent $7 million on an environmental study. And Menke said he has raised most of the $250,000 from private and public sources for a scoping study .

"I'm trying to take advantage of what's already been done," he said. "We know that state and federal money has dried up, so it could be a toll road."

Mattingly said the project has merit because it creates a new interstate using existing highways and bridges.

"We've already got a bridge across the Ohio River and we will have the (former U.S. 60) bypass extension," Mattingly said. "It won't compete with I-69. It's just an alternate to I-65. The real problem is in Louisville. Think of the trouble we're having with the I-64 bridge. If we are successful in convincing them to build an I-67 path, it would be a tremendous boon to the economy for this community and southern Indiana."

In addition to Menke, Payne and Mattingly, the I-67 board includes the mayors of Huntingburg, Jasper and Washington and representatives of several southern Indiana businesses. Four Indiana elected leaders will serve as advisors to the group.