When Indiana State Representative Randy Frye first took office representing Southeastern Indiana in 2010.
“I sat down and wrote a set of goals in a folder,” Representative Frye said. “I called it my ‘Vision for Southeast Indiana’. I had short term goals — things that ought to be done right away. Medium range goals — five years; and long range goals were 10 years. This road was one of the long range goals.”
“This Road” is a massive investment by the State of Indiana — $200 million — that will connect the Markland Dam and State Road 101 with a new road that will run north and connect to Interstate 74 running across the middle of Indiana.
The announcement of the project — with Representative Frye standing at his side — was made last week by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb in Evansville.
“Earlier on, we were trying to work out some type of arrangement with the counties to take over existing state roads in lieu of the new road being built,” the Representative said. “Well, along came the pandemic, and that put everything on hold — as you can imagine. So that’s where that was. The pandemic screwed our plans up, but on the other hand we got better stimulus dollars starting in January, so those stimulus dollars were able to be used for things like this road.”
Frye said that he learned about the coming stimulus money in late December, so he paid a visit to Indiana Speaker of the House Todd Huston.
“I went to see the speaker about this road — I have it on a white board — and I showed it to him and said, ‘This has to be built, but these people can’t afford to build it.’,” Frye said. “Over in Jasper, there’s a group of businessmen who are partnering with INDOT to build a new road down to I-64. The governor mentioned to me multiple times ‘You need to do that’, but I said there isn’t anybody to partner with. Switzerland County and Rising Sun don’t have any major businesses to partner with. It’s not like over where Jasper is. Besides, you’re looking at high poverty. If you look at the federal government’s poverty map, east of Vevay to Rising Sun and up to U.S. 50 is all considered ‘poverty’.
“I said, ‘Listen, if we’re ever going to change this, Eric (Holcomb) and Randy (Frye) are going to build this road. These people can’t do it. You can’t put that burden on them — they don’t have a way to do it’. Otherwise it will never be built.”
Representative Frye said that the project has been on the state books for more than 50 years, but it’s still not done — and he seized the opportunity to campaign for this area of the state to be awarded a large portion of those stimulus funds and other funds so that this can finally become a reality.
“When I had the conversation with the Governor and the Speaker and made our case, I got traction,” he said. “Along about a month into session, I went back and I made our pitch again for the road. I met four different times with the Governor in his office. I made the pitch over and over. The last time I talked with him, he said, ‘I think we can do it’. We finalized the budget and I got a text from the Speaker telling me that our road project was in the budget.”
After a decade of work and campaigning, the hardest part for the Representative was that he couldn’t share the good news with others because protocol dictated that he wait for the Governor to make the official announcement.
“When we’re talking $200 million — I’m not opening my mouth,” Frye laughed. “We’re talking 11 years worth of work — I wasn’t going to screw that up, but I wanted to so badly.”
Frye said that last Wednesday, June 9th, he got a call from the Governor that told him to be in Evansville on Friday, June 11th.
“I asked him why I was needed in Evansville, and he told me that I was going to want to go,” Frye said. “I said, ‘Give me a hint, why would I want to go for?’ He said, ‘Randy, it’s got lots of zeros behind it.’ I said, ‘I will be there’, because I knew what he meant then.”
Frye said that as he anticipated the announcement, he thought that the figure would be somewhere between $80 and $100 million. He said that when he and others spoke to officials at INDOT about building the new road, the figure that INDOT used was around $80 million.
“They they appropriated $200 million!” Frye said. “I get cold chills every time I say that. I can’t get my head around $200 million. Do you realize how much opportunity that’s going to bring to Southeast Indiana? If you build bridges. If you do asphalt. If you have a trucking company. If you sell aggregate — all of that stuff is going to be required. If you want a job running heavy equipment. Maybe you’re an engineer or a surveyor — my goodness look at the money that’s coming to our community just from the construction even before the road becomes a reality. I’m just over the top excited. How can you not be excited about this?”
So what happens now?
Representative Frye said that most of the people in the General Assembly or at INDOT didn’t know about it until last Friday — but since Frye and others have been working on this for a decade (or longer) there is work that has already been done.
“We’ve got a head start, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Frye said. “We don’t know the route yet. They haven’t engineered it. We don’t know the time frame, however, it’s not like they have to wait and budget it as they can to do it — that money’s in the bank. This is cash up front. There’s no debt in it. There’s no bond in it — this is cash money. I never dreamed that we could do something like this — ever. We’re working on it.”
Frye said that he anticipates people beginning to see activity as early as next Spring, as things such as environmental studies begin.
“By then we should have some idea about where the road will go,” he said. “We’ll have meetings with people who will want to sell their land — and some people may not — but I think there will be a whole lot of people who will want to sell their land through that area.”
And more than just landowners will see the benefits from this construction.
“We’re going to get high speed Internet with that road, Representative Frye said. “We’ll get fiber optic right down through there. We’re going to get new utility lines. We’re going to gain everywhere you can look.”
And all of those benefits come before the road is open to traffic.
“Once the road opens, we’re going to have economic development opportunities in manufacturing. Businesses. Fuel stops. Hotels. Restaurants. Look what it will do for the casino,” Frye said. “This is going to bring a lot of money into the county. Just think about the money that’s going to be spent there — the county gets tax money from that. The county’s going to benefit financially — and so it Ohio County and Dearborn County and Ripley County.”
Frye said eventually the road will go north and connect with Interstate 74 — he speculates that it could connect at Batesville or Sunman.
But don’t think that I’m going to squabble — because we’re going to build it and I really don’t care where it connects,” Frye said.
The representative said that the new road is going to allow travelers coming from Central Indiana to Georgia to Michigan or Florida to go right through this area utilizing the new highway.
“They’re not going to go all the way to 275 and go around,” he said. “The trucks that currently go through Vevay are no longer going to go through Vevay. They will go up the new road. That’s going to fix a lot of that congestion and noise that goes through Vevay.”
“The money is there,” he continued. “It’s not like we have to wait for the budget to come around and get it in the budget —it’s in the budget. The budget goes into effect July 1st.”
Frye said that the $200 million will come from a variety of sources — primarily the federal stimulus money; while state highway money will also come into play.
“With that federal stimulus money, they sent it to us and we didn’t need it to pay debt because we didn’t have any,” Frye said of the state’s financial situation. “We had $2.2 billion in the bank when the pandemic began, and we never went in the red. We were able to sustain — we’re still sitting on about $2 billion post-pandemic with a 3.7-percent unemployment rate, so Indiana is in a unique position that other state’s aren’t.”
And —overall — agree with the new road or not, Frye says that the allocation of this $200 million is historic for Switzerland County and this area of the state.
“This is the greatest opportunity in Southeastern Indiana history,” Representative Frye said. “$200 million. It’s an amazing moment for Southeast Indiana. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”