- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Interstate 69 was a rumor when Dan Rea and his wife, Gail, bought their house on Bloomington’s west side about 18 years ago.

Now it’s here, and the couple has a clear view of the changes being made to bring Ind. 37 up to interstate standards.

Indiana Department of Transportation contractors cleared trees and underbrush along Ind. 37 earlier this year to make way for those upgrades. As a result, homes that were once hidden by vegetation now can be seen clearly from the highway.

The majority of Bloomington’s residents only see the changes when they drive on Ind. 37. The Reas, however, see them every time they look at the backyard of their South Yonkers Street home. Dan Rea said his house is 100 feet from the highway, and the vegetation that created a natural barrier between the two isn’t there anymore. He’s taking the change in stride, though.

“It is a loss of privacy, but the cars go by so fast, we’ve tested it, and you can’t really see much,” he told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1fa5YsK ). “It’s not a huge deal.”



Rea isn’t too upset by the tree removal. He’s kept up with the I-69 project and knew it was coming. He also doesn’t think his view will be unobstructed forever.

“Once the sound wall is up, our privacy will be back,” he said.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the tentative plan is to build a sound barrier in some areas around Bloomington. He said a survey was sent out to certain residents asking if they would be in favor of such a structure.

Rea and Danny McGinn, who lives in Woodhaven Estates addition between Leonard Springs Road and Ind. 37, both said they received that survey and responded in favor of the barrier. They weren’t the only ones.

“I received notice that the majority of the people answered yes, and they were going to build a sound barrier,” McGinn said.

Building a barrier costs about $2 million per linear mile, Wingfield said. However, he said the barriers are only effective for the first row of houses, because sound moves in a pressure wave that curves around objects.

If sound walls are constructed in Monroe County, they will be the first such structures built along the I-69 extension, Wingfield said.

In the meantime, homeowners along the route will have to deal with the effects of the tree clearing. For McGinn, that means trying to sell a house with a backyard that can be seen from the highway. The interstate isn’t why he’s selling the home, though.

“It’s not because of I-69,” he said. “I have Stage 4 kidney disease. I want to move to Florida to be closer to my son.”

McGinn said he can’t say whether the interstate will make it harder to sell his house. On the one hand, certain things will be negatively affected, like the view from the sunroom that was built on the back of his home.

“Now, you’ll look out and see a 16-foot concrete wall,” he said, referring to the proposed sound barrier. “That wasn’t the purpose.”

Terry Phelps, who lives up the street from McGinn, is not optimistic about how the interstate will affect the neighborhood.

“I think it will cause all the property values to go down,” he said.

Phelps said he and his wife have lived in their home along Woodhaven Drive for 19 years. About three years ago, he found out the stretch of Ind. 37 behind his house would be converted to I-69. He wasn’t crazy about the plan, but moving didn’t seem like a good option at the time.

“What was the economy like three or four years ago?” he said. “Banks were taking over houses. It was not a good time to try to sell, so we didn’t pursue it.”

He’s still not sure if he’ll try to move to get away from the interstate.

“We’re still weighing that out,” he said. “I’ve got about five years to go, and my house will be paid for. I’m right between a rock and a hard spot.”

Wingfield couldn’t say what effect, if any, I-69 will have on property values in the Bloomington area.

“It’s not a regular occurrence that a state highway is converted to an interstate,” he said. “Other examples would be pretty recent. The long-term impact on property values has not been seen yet.”

Unfortunately, since the trees and underbrush were removed from the right of way, there won’t be any compensation for homeowners who are affected. In addition, there was no direct notification for homeowners along the route.

“I don’t think we got a notice about the tree removal other than what we read in the paper,” Rea said.

INDOT didn’t keep the tree removal secret; it distributed press news to various media outlets and posted information on Facebook and Twitter.

“We put information out on a number of different channels,” Wingfield said. “We try to reach people in different ways.”

Rea said he feels INDOT has a responsibility to disseminate information about what it’s doing, but citizens also have a responsibility to keep up with what’s going on. He has, and that’s why he hasn’t been too upset or surprised about what’s happening with I-69.

However, there’s still some things he’s not sure about.

“One of my concerns is that they won’t put up a wall,” he said. “From everything I’ve heard, there will be one; I’m just concerned they’ll change their mind.”

While unlikely, that’s a possibility. The plan agreement with I-69 Development Partners to design, build, finance, operate and maintain Section 5 of I-69 calls for a design-build approach. That means I-69 Development Partners will be designing one portion of Section 5 while it’s building another.

A preliminary plan exists, but I-69 Development partners can still make changes, which must be approved by INDOT.

“More often than not, it’s a tweak to the design, not where something is installed,” Wingfield said. “We’ll make a decision based on the best information we have available.”

As will the people who live along the I-69 route.

___

Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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