Business Leaders: Bridges and I-69 Impact Exceeding Expectations

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The newly constructed Ohio River Bridges are expected to generate $87 billion in economic impact in the next 30 years. The newly constructed Ohio River Bridges are expected to generate $87 billion in economic impact in the next 30 years.

Indiana transportation leaders say two major road projects in the state are already making a mark on their respective regional economies. Mapped out on paper in 2012, the Ohio River Bridges project connecting southern Indiana and Louisville is now complete and making waves in the region, says a local business leader. Additionally, I-69 continues its march northward from Evansville, further connecting the southern part of the state.

Both projects were highlighted during the Indiana Logistics Summit, led by Conexus Indiana, in late 2016 when hundreds of industry leaders throughout the country convened in Indianapolis.

The $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project included construction of a Downtown Crossing bridge connecting Jeffersonville, Indiana to downtown Louisville and the East End Crossing bridge, connecting the eastern edge of suburban Louisville and an area just east of Jeffersonville. State officials recently named the East End Crossing bridge the Lewis and Clark Bridge.

A 2014 economic impact study conducted by the Indiana Finance Authority says the project will generate $87 billion in economic impact in the next 30 years. The report also projects the creation of 15,000 jobs and $29 billion in personal income added to the region.

In addition to the long-term projections, KM Stemler Company Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Kerry Stemler says the immediate impacts of the project are already “beyond our expectation of what we thought would happen.” A $300 million expansion of the UPS world headquarters is underway at the Louisville International Airport, Clark Regional Airport is expanding a runway to increase capacity for cargo planes, and the River Ridge Commerce Center has 20 projects slated for 2017, totaling $8 million in investment.

“With the completion of the Ohio River Bridges we have more momentum and excitement in this part of the state than I think we’ve seen in years,” says Stemler, whose company is based in New Albany. “I’m a firm believer that you build infrastructure, and economic growth happens. We’ve unlocked the front door to economic development in this part of the state of Indiana. Obviously, we’re part of a larger MSA with the Louisville market, and we have a great regional partner with our neighbors to the south.”

Bringing additional change to southern Indiana’s transportation landscape is the ongoing construction of I-69. Work began on Section 1 in 2008, and the interstate has progressed northward from Evansville and is now open to traffic through Section 4 in Bloomington.

While Bloomington awaits completion of the interstate toward Indianapolis, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Director of Advocacy and Public Policy Anne Bono says the streamlined connection to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center is already beneficial; one-third of Crane NSWC workers live in Monroe County. Bono says the drive from Bloomington to Crane has been reduced from 45 minutes to about 20.

“[I-69] opens up work force development. We’re constantly hearing from businesses that they don’t have the work force they need,” says Bono. “Being able to provide those options [for residents]—the ease of being able to get from where they live to their place of employment—that’s huge.”

While Bloomington’s connection to Indianapolis is yet to be scheduled, having the interstate partially complete—and the remainder on the map—is a consideration for site selectors.

“[Interstate access] is a selling point for a lot of businesses—especially for larger corporations—to be able to transport goods and services via an interstate in Indiana and beyond,” says Bono. “We’re going to have this interstate right in our backyard that’s going to connect us up to Michigan and down to Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. That’s huge. It’s great to have this freight network that they’re able to utilize.”

For example, Cook Group Vice President of Industry and Government Affairs Dan Peterson says the company ships millions of medical devices and supplies every year out of its Bloomington headquarters. Peterson believes the I-69 route north is critical, as most of its product is trucked to Indianapolis International Airport and flown overnight to destinations throughout the world.

“We use the mantra that we’re the Crossroads of America,” says Stemler. “And we’ve got to make sure our infrastructure lives up to that standard. I’m a firm believer in the investment we need to continue to make in the state of Indiana.” 

Stemler says a visual display of the Ohio River Bridges’ impact is already taking shape in Clark County.
Bono says I-69 is a strong selling point for site selectors considering the Bloomington region.
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