Nation’s newest interstate highway promises greater safety, mobility and quality of life
HNTB is assisting the Indiana Department of Transportation in realizing a 75-year goal to upgrade State Road 37 to interstate highway standards. The 142-mile corridor’s final 26-mile segment, branded the I-69 Finish Line, connects Martinsville, Indiana, and Indianapolis.
At Martinsville, the highway will be two lanes in each direction until it reaches Indianapolis, where it will range from three to four lanes in each direction.
“Completing the final section of I-69 is Gov. Eric Holcomb’s No. 1 transportation priority,” said Sarah Rubin, INDOT I-69 Finish Line corridor project manager.
Mobility, the traditional way
These days, when states think of increasing mobility, they tend to explore transit and high-speed transportation options.
“America isn’t designing and building a lot of new interstates,” said Tim Miller, HNTB’s corridor manager for the project. “The economic impacts and improved mobility will be significant for the region.”
The I-69 project has stretched through five Indiana gubernatorial administrations. But because of the transformative benefits the new interstate promises, Indiana has kept its vision alive, a remarkable achievement in itself.
“I-69 is a generational project that will create economic opportunities, increase safety and reinforce Indiana’s place as the crossroads of America,” Rubin said.
The final 26-miles of new I-69 is estimated to bring approximately $4.1 billion in economic benefits and jobs to the Hoosier State over the next 20 years.
When opened to traffic in 2024, the newest segment will:
- Heighten safety. The project will eliminate at-grade intersections and traffic signals, construct overpasses and underpasses, build local access road connections and consolidate interstate access points. INDOT estimates the cumulative effect of the safety measures will reduce regional crashes by 1,300 per year.
- Increase mobility. The new segment of interstate highway will connect area residents and commerce with industry along the Ohio River, a U.S. naval base, state universities and NCAA events in Indianapolis.
- Enhance quality of life. The interstate will shorten travel time by 11 minutes in the final 26-mile segment between Martinsville and Indianapolis, allowing motorists to invest the time savings in other activities.
A consistent presence
In 2020, HNTB marked its 80th anniversary providing transportation services to Indiana. Part of the firm’s legacy is the I-69 project. In 2003, INDOT awarded HNTB the preliminary design and environmental impact statement for the northern-most 26 miles with Miller as the project manager.
In 2014 HNTB was the project manager for the EIS. And Miller has been involved with the I-69 project from the beginning, including some of the initial planning studies when he was with INDOT in the 1990s. His institutional knowledge of the project and public involvement history has provided a steady hand in assuring the project advances. “During the past eight years, INDOT and I have communicated on a daily basis to assure the project maintains its schedule and we provide the hundreds of stakeholders along the corridor excellent customer service,” said Miller.
“HNTB returned with a historical context of the project — who had been in favor of the project and who had been opposed to it,” Rubin said. “Their continuity is part of the reason the public involvement program was a success.”
“Aside from the pause, we have kept the project on schedule for 20 years,” Miller said, “and we intend to see it through.”
The I-69 Finish Line covers a three-county area. Getting all the communities on the same page and ensuring impacts and mitigation were equitable was important for this project’s success. HNTB collaborated with INDOT to create and implement a transparent and aggressive public involvement program that would later be praised by the industry.
Kitchen table meetings
Moving into the NEPA process, INDOT and the HNTB team scheduled a series of project updates with community groups and listed the goals to be achieved by the time those meetings were held.
“It was important that we hit those dates. It would help us gain the public’s trust,” Rubin said. “On-time delivery became a conditioned expectation of the public and represented our team’s commitment to delivering this final segment.”
To mitigate the impact of right-of-way acquisition, INDOT and the HNTB team implemented an uncommon and extremely time-intensive grassroots campaign.
“HNTB’s public involvement team offered to meet face-to-face with a stakeholder impacted by the project to explain the plan set and how it would affect them specifically,” Miller said. “We called them ‘kitchen table’ meetings, and they gave stakeholders a greater comfort level.”
There were more than 700 properties to acquire along the 26-mile alignment. To build trust among these critical stakeholders, the HNTB team held more than 400 meetings with property owners, businesses and residents and conducted 15 public information meetings.
“In 2015, we made a public commitment to have the EIS completed and the Record of Decision issued by first quarter 2018, and we were able to do that after hundreds of meetings and thousands of public comments,” Miller said. “At the end, we had a project that was supported by the vast majority of the communities up and down the corridor.”
“HNTB was instrumental in helping us achieve a foundation of trust with the affected communities as we entered the design phase,” Sarah Rubin, INDOT corridor project manager, said.
Other environmental activities included:
- Delineating 200 acres of wetlands and 50,000 linear feet of stream
- Modeling 90,000 linear feet of noise barrier
- Evaluating 560 potential relocations and Section 4(f) resource impacts
- Investigating hazardous materials and petroleum-contaminated wastes at 48 sites
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the team’s effort by issuing a Lack of Objections (LO) rating (highest rating) on the DEIS and the Federal Highway Administration issued its approval and a Record of Decision in February 2018.
“Nearly the entire alignment needed new drainage infrastructure. We moved high-tension power lines, relocated a gas line running along much of SR 37, conserved land for a native endangered bat species and other natural environmental features. There wasn’t a discipline we couldn’t address. We have some of the best people in the industry here at HNTB.”
“I-69 is a generational project that will create economic opportunities, increase safety and reinforce Indiana’s place as the crossroads of America.”
“A key trait of HNTB is that they are always a team player.”
Preparing for a 5-mile closure
To speed construction of a 30-foot-high embankment in Martinsville, Indiana, and ensure the safety of workers and motorists, HNTB helped INDOT prepare for and close 5 miles of SR 37.
“Active traffic presented a safety hazard through the construction zone,” said Jennifer Goins, HNTB’s project manager for construction contracts one and two. “Closing the facility would be safer for everyone involved, and it would consolidate construction of the embankment to two seasons instead of three.”
SR 37 follows the White River. On the other side of the river is State Road 67. When INDOT began contemplating the 5-mile closure of SR 37, SR 67 was the obvious detour. INDOT was confident the four-lane divided SR 67 could handle the additional 35,000 vehicles a day diverted because of the closure.
State Road 39 in Martinsville is an important corridor for the community; the route motorists would use to access SR 67. SR 39 runs through Martinsville’s commercial area. The highway was a two-lane facility with an intermittent center turn lane and multiple access points.
To prepare SR 39 for heavier volumes, HNTB designed several improvements that is expediting the flow of traffic, including:
- New traffic signals
- Traffic signal timing
- Temporary restriping
- Widening the facility to four lanes in the commercial area
HNTB’s design also improved to select Martinsville city streets that will carry an increased load during the closure.
INDOT completed the improvements in time for the scheduled year-long shutdown, which took effect Jan. 2, 2021 and is operating smoothly.
26 miles of challenges and opportunities
The I-69 project is one of the most complex preliminary engineering and environmental studies INDOT has completed. It involved:
- 26 miles of interstate highway
- 36 lane-miles of local access roads
- 39 new bridges
- 35 replaced or rehabbed bridge structures
- 10 new interchanges and access points, including a massive system interchange at I-465/I-69
“The complexity of the new I-465/I-69 interchange design cannot be understated,” Miller said. “It is a multilevel, fully directional interchange that will upgrade the existing, outdated interchange.”
Another challenge? Converting the four-lane, median-divided state highway with partial access control to an interstate facility with full access control. Using its traffic modeling expertise, HNTB consolidated 92 existing access points to 10 access points and removed 14 traffic signals.
“Nearly the entire alignment needed new drainage infrastructure,” Miller said. “We moved high-tension power lines, relocated a gas line running along much of SR 37, conserved land for a native endangered bat species and other natural environmental features. There wasn’t a discipline we couldn’t address. We have some of the best people in the industry here at HNTB.”
In 2019, INDOT and HNTB accepted the Engineering Excellence Grand Award from the Indiana Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies for the I-69 Finish Line’s preliminary design and public involvement process.
In December 2021, Gov. Holcomb, the team and the community celebrated the opening of a new 7-mile section includes three interchanges, 1.4 miles of noise barrier, the award-winning Grand Valley Boulevard Bridge and two gateway monuments.
Innovative contracting method
The 142-mile I-69 corridor project was broken into six sections for environmental, design and construction and started at the southern limits in Evansville and worked its way north. The first three sections consisted of 67 miles and opened to traffic in late 2012. Section 4 opened 27 miles in late 2015, Section 5 opened 21 miles in 2018 and all 26 miles of the northernmost section will open by the end of 2024.
HNTB I-69 Finish Line disciplines
- Traffic and modeling
- Construction inspection staff
Section six now known as I-69 Finish Line, is the final 26-miles and was broken into five construction contracts, totaling more than $1.5 billion, with HNTB serving in several capacities:
- Communication manager for all five construction contracts
- Lead designer for the contracts 1 and 2 that totaled more than $185 million
- Manager of corridor wide utilities and hydraulics; Subconsultant, providing expertise in communications, utilities and hydraulics for contracts three and four
- Design oversight of 8 miles of added travel lanes on I-465
- Technical procurement advisor and construction inspection lead for the $728 million contract 5 segment, the segment that contains three interchanges in an urbanized area, including a new interchange at I-465 and I-69
“Design-build best value encouraged the contracting community to propose innovative design elements, configurations and safety features that would save money,” Miller said.
HNTB assembled the procurement document and is working with the contractor to ensure all specifications are met.
Amid the pandemic, INDOT set a goal to award contracts four and five by the end of 2020 and met it. Each of the contracts awarded came in at or below the engineer’s estimate. As of April 2021, all Finish Line contracts are under construction and in some cases complete. Contract 1 finished in 2020 Contracts 2 and 3 will be complete in 2022, and contracts four and five in 2024.
“There is a personal commitment on our part and INDOT’s part to make sure the project does not fail, and the schedule does not fail,” Miller said.
“What helps a team thrive are people who have an appreciation for what each team member brings to the table and an appreciation for how the players come together to deliver a successful project,” Rubin said. “A key trait of HNTB is that they are always a team player.”
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