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I-69 plan changes reduce properties affected

BLOOMINGTON – Fewer homes and businesses would be torn down under a revised plan for a section of the Interstate 69 extension that could cut the cost of the project by more than $100 million.

The Indiana Department of Transportation’s new proposal for the 21-mile stretch of highway from just south of Bloomington to Martinsville puts the estimated price at $394 million, including costs for design, construction and land purchases.

That’s a big drop from an estimate released last fall of between $500 million and $546 million, The Herald-Times of Bloomington and The Indianapolis Star reported.

The new figures released Monday put the cost closer to the $405 million-to-$440 million range the state issued in 2011.

Highway department spokesman Will Wingfield attributed the savings to more refined engineering and a better assessment of the existing four-lane Indiana 37, which the new highway largely would follow.

“After a more detailed engineering assessment, a study of the use of existing roadways and surfaces and a look at reducing the cost of purchasing the right of way, as well, we came up with new figures,” he said. “Doing more homework and winnowing down the impact is making a big difference.”

The new plan cuts the number of homes being bought along the route from 150 down to 119, while the number of businesses affected will fall from 32 to 17. The state said it will need to buy about 327 acres of land, a decrease of about 9 percent.

The Federal Highway Administration on Friday approved allowing the use of federal money to complete the design and acquire land for the new section. The next step will involve hiring a development team to arrange financing, design and build the project.

The state hasn’t set a timetable for design or construction for the Bloomington-to-Martinsville section, Wingfield said.

A 67-mile stretch of I-69 opened last November from near Evansville at I-64 to near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center southwest of Bloomington. Construction is underway on a 27-mile section between Crane and Bloomington that is expected to open to traffic late next year.

The final leg would go about 26 miles from Martinsville north to Indianapolis, also generally following Indiana 37.

Revisions made for the Bloomington-to-Martinsville section will have seven interchanges and five overpasses built, but use the existing Indiana 37 in more places.

“It’s just an ongoing refinement of the project,” Wingfield said. “As we go into development, we get better information and can make better decisions.”