While the construction of I-69 has been a hotly-debated issue since its inception, Hoosier businesses that rely heavily on moving product are celebrating that the final leg is now on the map. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) announced in March that State Road 37 between Martinsville and Indianapolis is the best option for the I-69 extension. The price of progress will come at the cost of some companies moving or closing, but two large operations south of Indianapolis believe business—on a bigger scale—will benefit.
INDOT says the route will have the lowest environmental impact, but acquiesced in a screening report that, of the five considered paths, “it could require the largest number of commercial property relocations.” The plan is expected to cause 96 businesses to relocate or close.
However, for Bloomington-based Cook Group, streamlining its distribution is always a top priority; Vice President of Industry and Government Affairs Dan Peterson says the company ships millions of medical devices and supplies every year out of Bloomington. The route north is critical, as most of its product is trucked to Indianapolis International Airport and flown to destinations throughout the world.
“We ship our products overnight—not that every one is intended for a patient the next day—but that’s become the industry standard in the medical technology business,” says Peterson. “A lot of hospitals have ‘just in time’ inventory systems, and quite often, there are overnight deliveries of devices that are needed for somebody who’s on the operating table or going to be on the table the next day.”
While the absence of a direct interstate connection to Indianapolis hasn’t impeded Cook’s ability to move product, Peterson believes I-69 could be a green light for increased reliability.
“As traffic has continued to increase, and the growing requirement that product is shipped overnight, the more critical I-69 has become for us over the years,” says Peterson. “When you have product going over road that has stoplights and turnoffs, statistically, there’s just a higher chance for wrecks, slowdowns and other issues versus the interstate system. The critical nature of the products we make that are used almost exclusively in hospital settings—they have to be reliably delivered.”
Further north at Venture Logistics in Indianapolis, President Greg Eddy expects the interstate extension will reduce the drive time to and from Evansville by about 25 minutes and “really open the gateway to Texas with a nice thoroughfare back and forth.”
The company operates about 1,000 trucks from its headquarters near State Road 37 and I-465 on Indianapolis’ south side. The new interstate was a consideration when the company solidified plans to build a truck-rail facility near its headquarters, which is scheduled to open in the coming weeks.
“We were going to build it regardless, but I think I-69 makes it even that much more viable,” says Venture Logistics President Greg Eddy. “It’s one of the more exciting rail-to-truck operations in Indiana. It’s state-of-the-art; we can unload 20 high cube rail cars at a time—that’s unheard of. With the partnership of The Indiana Rail Road Company, the service will be spectacular.”
Venture Logistics currently runs routes to the Evansville region via I-70 to Terre Haute, then State Road 41 to southwest Indiana. In addition to the final leg decreasing travel time, Eddy notes it will also increase safety.
“[I-69 construction] is going to be painful; it’s going to tie some things up. But with infrastructure, it’s no pain, no gain,” says Eddy. “If [Indiana] is going to tout infrastructure, we have to put up with some pain to make sure we get better infrastructure in the state.”
While the new interstate could be a hazard for nearly 100 businesses near State Road 37 between Martinsville and Indianapolis, larger operations contend it puts Indiana in the fast lane for economic development.
Peterson says the interstate will speed the movement of the company’s medical devices to Indianapolis, benefit commuters and boost French Lick’s tourism industry.
Eddy says the development of I-69 will save the company’s drivers 25 to 30 minutes between Bloomington and Indianapolis and be safer.
Eddy says the expansion of I-69 is “visionary” for Indiana.