State’s Revive I-70 project to begin during late 2024 in Wayne County
The Indiana Department of Transportation envisions six lanes of free-flowing Interstate 70 traffic between the Ohio state line and Indianapolis.
That vision, called Revive I-70, is still years away, but Wayne County construction should begin in late 2024. Starting at the state line, INDOT plans to expand I-70 through the county’s 20-plus interstate miles, widen and improve 40 bridges and modify the U.S. 40 and U.S. 35/Williamsburg Pike interchanges. Then, the work will continue toward Indianapolis.
INDOT says the changes will reduce congestion while improving traffic flow and safety. Some policymakers say the relief may only be temporary while diverting funds from other transportation priorities.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Jeff Plasterer, a Wayne County commissioner and retired executive director of the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. “It will be a significant benefit when it’s done, but it’s going to be a headache until it’s done, of course. It will be painful and frustrating, but keep your eye on the end result.”
Space for the two new travel lanes will come from the interstate’s median, enabling travel lanes to remain open through the construction, according to INDOT. Still, drivers will have their fill of orange construction barrels.
INDOT will host a public meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, in Whitewater Hall at Indiana University East , 2325 Chester Blvd. The open house-style meeting will include a 6 p.m. project presentation. Those attending have the opportunity to discuss the project and provide feedback.
A virtual meeting will be 6 to 7 p.m. Jan. 24. Participants may register at bit.ly/ReviveI70VirtualMeeting.
INDOT has established a project website, ReviveI70.com, with information and project updates that are also shared on Revive I-70 Facebook and Twitter pages. People may sign up on the website to receive email or text updates. They also may sign up by texting “INDOT ReviveI70” to 468311.
Another public hearing about the project is expected this spring.
Officials say increased traffic, including large trucks, makes the expanded highway necessary. During 2021, drivers traveled 880,000 daily miles on Wayne County’s interstate, including 389,000 by commercial vehicles, according to INDOT. That’s an increase of 128,000 daily miles in 15 years as the daily mileage increased steadily from 752,000 in 2006.
“Although inconvenient to some extent, the added lanes will lighten traffic in the future,” said Beth Leisure, a Cambridge City business owner and Wayne County Council member. “I-70 is overcrowded and needs the update.
But expanding highways is not the only answer to increased traffic, according to some. The nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group analyzes highway projects nationwide, and it contends in a 2022 report that interstate expansions only provide short-term traffic relief. It indicates that “induced demand,” a system of societal decisions, leads to a traffic increase that congests the highway to pre-expansion levels or more, often quickly.
An expanded highway encourages more drivers to use it. Pollution from traffic increase further impacts the environment. The PIRG report says highway expansion projects divert funding from repair and maintenance of existing roads and from transportation alternatives, such as rail, that reduce dependence on automobile travel and fossil fuels.
A November 2021 $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill has provided funding toward those alternatives, but transportation priorities and spending are subject to decisions by state and local officials.
Indiana has committed more than $1 billion since 2016 to local road and bridge projects through its Community Crossings grant program. Grants require either 50% or 25% local matches, depending on population. Wayne County and its municipalities have benefited from Community Crossings through paving programs, culvert replacements or bridge repairs and replacements.
Plasterer said there’s no way to gauge how an expanded interstate could impact business attraction. An easier time moving goods along I-70 could entice companies to locate in the area.
Easier travel could convince workers to live in Wayne County and commute toward Indianapolis for work, but it could also remove a reason for commuters who work in Wayne County to relocate here. Thousands of Wayne County workers live outside the county.
An interstate that handles more traffic flow comfortably also increases the ability for travelers to visit Wayne County. Leisure said 78 cents of every dollar spent in Wayne County remains in the county.
“In the future, more and more travelers will have the opportunity to travel through our state and stop in our county,” she said.
The added lanes could reduce construction-related accidents. Wayne County has seen multiple deadly accidents when trucks slammed into vehicles that were slowed or stopped because of construction.
Overall, 10 large trucks were involved in deadly Wayne County accidents from 2016 to 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From 2018 to 2022, according to the NHTSA, 1,301 large trucks were involved in crashes and 22 in deadly crashes in Wayne, Henry and Hancock counties.
The benefits won’t result until after enduring construction, which Leisure says will employ local workers.
Mary Walker, the Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau executive director, said she would “ask, suggest and even plead” that the state not allow trucks to leave I-70 for U.S. 40 to avoid the construction. That would help cut down on travel problems along 40 and make it an attractive option for other travelers. Walker thinks that with this much time prior to the construction start, U.S. 40 businesses can create opportunities.
Walker said the project timeline is important, with early spring and late fall better for closures than the summer travel season. INDOT has yet to release those specific details.
She will speak with INDOT and work with State Sen. Jeff Raatz and State Rep. Brad Barrett in attempts to structure the work when it least harms local businesses. Walker said during previous I-70 work, INDOT was convinced to work 24 hours a day to complete the project in half the time.
“Communication is the key, and preparation,” Walker said. “With the lead time we have, we can have these discussions, and it’s imperative that we do.”
Any remodel of the U.S. 40 and I-70 interchange near the state line creates difficulties for a host of hotels, restaurants and retail stores located along National Road East.