New road from Markland Dam to U.S. 50? ‘Our time to take the stage’

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Could State Road 101, as it crosses the Ohio River from Kentucky into Switzerland County, continue north and eventually connect to Interstate 74?

  That’s a part of ongoing discussions at the state and local levels.

  Indiana State Representative Randy Frye has been discussing the possibility with officials in Switzerland, Ohio, and Dearborn counties, and feels like the construction of the roadway, which would first connect to U.S. Highway 50 near Dillsboro, would open this part of the state up for unprecedented economic expansion. (It should be noted that no final decision has been made; and no path for the road has been determined.)

  “It’s a concept right now,” Frye said. ‘It’s $163 million project that would go from the Markland Dam to U.S. 50 somewhere around Dillsboro. Of course, it would be a new road. And this is just a concept, it’s not an engineered project yet. It’s not on a map anywhere. It’s just a proposal.”

  Frye said that initial discussions would have the road running somewhere near East Enterprise; and then north to Aberdeen and then on to Cass Union, where the current road T’s into State Road 262.

  “I made a proposal to Ohio County, and my proposal included running over existing State Road 56 from East Enterprise to Aberdeen, and then using existing Cass Union Road from Aberdeen over to Pate; and from Pate using existing 262 — as much as possible — but with a new road, new wide lanes, straight,” Frye said. “Most of old 262 from Cass Union Road over to Dillsboro would be completely done away with and replaced with new State Road 101.”

  Frye said that the state also has offered to rebuild State Road 56 from Aberdeen to Rising Sun; making it a wider and more straight road, but noted that’s still up in the air at this point.

  “There’s another proposal — maybe Ohio County’s going to propose — that the state rebuild 262 from Cass Union down to Rising Sun, and the county take over 56 from Aberdeen to Rising Sun,” the State Representative said. “It just depends, but the way it works, in order to get this $163 million project, the counties have to take over what are currently some of the existing state roads as county roads. That all has to be negotiated between the counties and the state. That’s where we are right now. Switzerland, Ohio, and Dearborn counties have to figure out if they want to do this, and if they do, how much money they would need, and then they would have to negotiate that from INDOT.”

  So how long is this process? Much quicker than some might think.

  “It should open in five years, if we can get it signed off,” Frye said. “By the time everyone signs off, they’re talking about opening it in five years.”

  Frye said that the second phase of the proposal would go from U.S. 50 at Dillsboro to I-74 around the Sunman/Milan exit.

  “That would connect I-71 to I-74, so folks from Switzerland County could literally be at I-74 in a little over a half an hour,” Frye said. “This is another concept, it hasn’t been verified yet, but we know it’s happening — that Kentucky is looking to build from Sparta to I-75, which would then create an I-75 to I-71 to I-74 corridor that runs through Switzerland, Ohio, Dearborn, and Ripley counties. Travelers, trucks, would not have to go anywhere near Cincinnati, Erlanger, Florence, all of that airport traffic — and our area would then begin to see economic development like we’ve never seen before.”

  Frye said a new road would have the effect of seeing gaming in the area increase, noting that Belterra and Rising Star in Rising Sun have both expressed a great deal of interest in this proposal.

  “The Rising Star boat is just barely hanging on, they’ve lost money three years in a row, so those people aren’t going to be there forever,” the Representative said. “No matter what your opinion is of gaming — for or against — if that boat leaves now, it’s the largest employer in the county. It would devastate the county. If we can help keep our communities healthy and keep those boats going and get this new road and get economic development — and get $163 million spent in our community — when’s the last time you’ve heard of anything like that? It’s the largest investment in Southeast Indiana economically in history.”

  Frye said that the $163 million is just phase one, and doesn’t count the additional money that will be spent from U.S. 50 to I-74; or the Kentucky money that will be spent from I-75 to I-71 at Sparta.

  “This is to me, is absolutely something that has to be done,” the Representative said. “The counties have to work out the details — it has to work for them, I get that — but in the end, we must find a way to do this. We have never had an opportunity like this before. This is our time on the main stage. We have to do this for future generations.”

  Frye said that when he was a little boy, Interstate 70 was constructed from Indianapolis to Dayton, Ohio. He said that I-70 was supposed to go through Fayette County near Connersville and hit the south side of Richmond.

  “People in Fayette County said, ‘We don’t want that road’,” Frye remembers. “We don’t want that interstate. Keep it out of here. Somebody had enough power, and they moved it north and it went by Hagerstown and hit the north side of Richmond. Fayette County now has some of the highest unemployment in the state. The factories that were there are gone — all of them. They did not embrace their opportunity when they were on the stage.

  “We cannot make that mistake.”

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  Frye said that currently the Indiana Department of Transportation has made some proposals to the counties involved, because counties will have to take over some roads that are currently state roads — so they are maintained by state workers and state money — and they will become county roads — being cared for and paid for by county money. He said that the exact mileage of roads involved has not yet been determined or agreed upon, but said that he believes Dearborn County is on board.

  “I do not know the details — and I don’t think Switzerland County knows all of the details yet, about what they are being asked to do; but I do believe that INDOT has told me multiple times that they feel like they can resolve any issues with Switzerland County — so the real question here is, ‘how do we get Ohio County on board’? That’s why I made that proposal. My proposal only increases Ohio County’s inventory of county roads by 4.2 miles. To get a $163 million project for 4.2 miles? To me, that’s absolutely a no-brainer.”

  Frye said it can’t be understated that our area schools don’t have the number of students that they used to; and young people aren’t staying in our communities anymore — as they are forced to leave in order to find good paying jobs.

  “If we really want our kids to have opportunities. If we want more students. If we want our businesses to do better, we’ve got to have more people,” Representative Frye said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure, people aren’t coming. Businesses aren’t coming. On the other hand, if you’re in Cincinnati, and you can get to East Enterprise, and you can get up there to Switzerland County Elementary School, you’re kids will love it. Or Dillsboro or any of those communities up in there — because life for families is so much better than it would be living in the city.”

  But Frye stresses that now is the time for Switzerland County and its neighbors to act.

  “One of my favorite things that I put into a lot of my speeches, especially to young people, is, ‘If you’re not prepared for an opportunity, it’s not an opportunity for you. But if you are prepared for the opportunity and you’re not looking for it, when it comes along, it becomes an opportunity for someone else’,” Frye said. “It’s taken me since 2011 to get this done. I’ve been working and working and pushing. I’ve got a Governor who supports it. The Commissioner of INDOT supports it. The money is there. We don’t have to give money. We don’t need an appropriation. We don’t need anything other than for the counties to say, ‘Yes, we’ll do it’ — and we’re going to build it.”