Indiana Segment of Interstate 69 Nears Completion
A Long-Awaited Connection: Final Section of Interstate 69 in Indiana Scheduled for Completion in 2024
The completion of Interstate 69, the long envisioned new connection between Canada and Mexico, may be uncertain and, at best, still decades away. But in Indiana, the new interstate highway is another step closer to fruition – the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) has begun the initial work on Section 6 of I-69 in the state. This final section is to be a 27-mile stretch from Martinsville and Indianapolis, where it will connect with I-465 on the city’s south side.
Sections 1 through 5 of the I-69 project are now open to traffic between Evansville and Martinsville, reports INDOT Strategic Communications Director Scott Manning. “The original section of Interstate 69 in Indiana, from the Michigan state line to the northeast side of Indianapolis was completed in 1971 and is approximately 157 miles. Construction began on the portion from I-64 at Evansville to I-465 at Indianapolis in 2008. Today, 114 miles of that portion are open to traffic. Once Section 6 is complete, that portion will total 142 miles. Section 1 opened to traffic in 2009, Sections 2 and 3 in 2012, Section 4 in 2015, and Section 5 in 2018.”
Local road improvements in the Martinsville area are already under construction, to help preserve local mobility during mainline construction. That main construction on Section 6 is expected to begin in Marion, Johnson, and Morgan counties in 2021, and is projected to be complete by 2024.
Section 6, an approximately $1.5 billion project developed and managed by INDOT, will upgrade the existing State Route 37 to interstate standards and make improvements and add travel lanes on I-465. The project includes:
- More than 26 miles of new interstate highway
- More than 35 lane-miles of new local access roads
- Rehabilitation or replacement of 35 existing bridges
- Construction of 39 new bridges
- Elimination of 14 traffic signals
- Construction of 14 overpasses and underpasses
- Establishment of 10 interstate access points
Manning says INDOT spent much of 2018 working on design and right-of-way acquisition; the focus for 2019 was “offline” work in the Martinsville area – making improvements and building out the local street network that will tie into I-69 and maintain traffic during construction in 2020 and 2021. Interchange construction and the start of mainline construction will now follow. As he explains, “I-69 will convert an existing highway, SR 37, which is a two-lane, divided highway in each direction. We will upgrade it to Interstate standards, and in 2021, we'll close SR 37. That's why it was so critical to do the initial work in 2019 to maintain connectivity."
I-69 Project Divided Into Six Sections
The environmental review process was a key factor in dividing the overall project into six sections, Manning explains. “Indiana used a two-tier environmental process, selecting an overall route from 14 alternatives during Tier 1 and then refining sections of the route through separate alternatives during the Tier 2 process. Breaking the project into multiple sections also gave the state enhanced flexibility for considering procurement methods, managing funding and consultant/contractor capacity, and overall constructability.”
Each segment of Section 6 has its own design consultant; Manning adds. “Section 6 is being designed and delivered on an aggressive timeline. To deliver the project effectively, ensure quality, and maximize value for taxpayers, Indiana is using separate design consultants and construction contractors for each segment of Section 6 to make sure that adequate capacity is available to ensure work is completed on time and on budget across the entire project.”
While a design consultant for the Marion County portion has not yet been selected, Manning reports that INDOT has received proposals, which are under evaluation.
Three INDOT contracts will make up the Section 6 construction; an offline contract was awarded in December 2018 to Milestone Contractors, and utility relocation and construction began in Martinsville in early 2019. This includes construction of new local access roads and a new overpass. Mainline and “other” contracts will trigger the primary construction during 2020 (the “other” contract will include intersection improvements, signal timing, and road paving in the Martinsville area).
Manning adds, “The design-build best value approach was used in Section 5 and will be employed in Section 6. This procurement method aided INDOT in delivering projects on accelerated schedules and achieving cost savings while also introducing design elements, configurations, and safety features that may not have been proposed through traditional procurement.”
Route Through Dense Urban Areas a Challenge for Section 6
With an estimated cost of $1.5 billion, the 27-mile Section 6 is the most expensive of all six sections of I-69 in Indiana; its price tag is more expensive than all the previous five sections combined. The high cost is largely due to the urban location and right-of-way acquisition.
The anticipated construction cost is $100 million for each of the Morgan and Johnson County segments, according to Manning, but the Marion County segment will cost $500 million to $600 million – in part because the Marion County segment is the most urbanized, and in part because of the work required to connect I-69 with I-465. The I-465 work alone is estimated at $135 million.
Manning comments, “The residential and business density along the corridor in Martinsville and in the Indianapolis metro area, coupled with the higher traffic volumes on SR 37 and major cross routes in those areas, present some unique challenges for upgrading an existing four-lane highway to an interstate – compared to the first four sections of I-69, which were new terrain construction. INDOT and our consultants and contractors are managing more property relocations in Section 6 than in all previous sections combined, for example.
“We also are committed to preserving local mobility throughout the corridor while the interstate is built so that residents can continue to maintain their quality of life and businesses can continue to get employees back and forth to work and move products.
“One of the steps that INDOT is taking to be responsive to the needs of urban areas is closing a portion of SR 37 in Martinsville during 2021 to accelerate mainline construction. The local road improvements being completed this year will allow movements to continue during this closure while speeding up overall completion of the project. Also, INDOT is using a design-build best value procurement method for the Marion County portion, allowing the design-build teams to propose innovative ideas for maintaining traffic flow and accelerating construction, among other criteria.”
Right-of-way acquisition has been another challenging aspect of the I-69 construction in Indiana, and is perhaps most challenging in the Section 6 project. According to Indianapolis-based engineering and surveying firm Beam Longest and Neff LLC (which was awarded the contract to coordinate real estate activity for the entire corridor, including appraisals, acquisitions, relocations and demolitions), over 800 parcels of land will be affected by the project. These parcels include homes, businesses, and undeveloped land, and about 300 relocations will be necessary. All totaled, right-of-way costs for Section 6 are estimated at $220 million – far more than any other section.
I-69 in Indiana has presented other challenges as well. As Manning explains, “Because the overall corridor is more than 140 miles, it’s being built through a diverse set of land types from farm land to wooded areas, and several dense, urban settings.
“Sections 4 and 5 were built through Karst topography, which required designers and contractors to be especially sensitive to building the interstate without causing undue harm to the environment – while also delivering a final product that would be durable despite a unique geology under the road. Limiting erosion and ensuring proper drainage was a major consideration in these two sections as well. Soil types also vary widely in Indiana due to glacial deposits so the type of material used for pavement and road bed can change from one mile to the next, or even less in some cases.”
I-69 Already Making Positive Impact on Economy
Section 6 of I-69 in Indiana will be constructed on an aggressive timeline – the completion originally scheduled for 2027 now has a goal of late 2024. Area residents will have to live with active construction zones throughout the entire corridor for the next four years, including a complete closure of SR 37 during 2021.
At the end of all this disruption, however, the entire region is expected to experience a new economic vitality, along with more efficient travel and increased access to everything from jobs to healthcare. The momentum is already being felt, Manning states.
“Interstate 69 is positively impacting Indiana’s economy in a couple of key areas – one being workforce. A challenge for businesses in today’s economy can sometimes be to find the workers they need. I-69 makes access more convenient for both businesses and current and potential employees. For example, Sections 4 and 5 have reduced the travel time from Bloomington to Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, a major Southwest Indiana employer, from 45 minutes to about 20 minutes.
“I-69 has also become a game changer in terms of site selection. Development sites along the corridor can now boast interstate access and will ultimately have a free-flow connection to Indianapolis International Airport, meaning goods can move from Southwest Indiana to anywhere in the world essentially overnight.
“This final section of I-69 alone is expected to have a $4.1 billion in regional economic impact in just the next 20 years.”