HANCOCK COUNTY — A study recently approved study will examine possible locations for an additional exit off Interstate 70 into Hancock County.
In coming weeks, officials from the Hancock County Highway Department will select a company to complete a roughly $50,000 study analyzing current traffic patterns, population and business development throughout the county.
The company will also map out projections of what those figures will look like in future decades, which will help local officials determine what — if any — type of exit should be considered to accommodate future growth.
Gary Pool, engineer for the county highway department, said if the study outlines a need for another exit, construction would likely be decades out. But completing the study is the first step to determine what the future might bring for the county, he said.
Currently, the exits onto Mt. Comfort Road and State Road 9 are the only means of entering the county along a roughly 20-mile stretch of I-70. By comparison, Henry County, which has around 50,000 residents — about 22,000 fewer than Hancock County — has three exits from the interstate.
The county’s comprehensive plan — an outline for future growth that was adopted in 2005 — identifies areas near county roads 200W and 600E as possible locations for an additional exit from I-70, said Mike Dale, Hancock County building and planning director.
This study will re-examine those locations, but it will also consider other sites in the county, Pool said.
While the area’s existing exits are sufficient to handle present-day traffic, that might not hold true as the area’s population continues to swell, he said.
The cost to build the infrastructure that another exit would likely require — traffic lights, utilities and construction materials — are expensive, and the county would require financial assistance from state and federal grant programs, he added.
Completing the study now could set the county up to successfully secure the necessary funding to pay for construction, said Bill Bolander, president of the Hancock County Council, which on Wednesday commissioned the interchange study.
“We’ve got to be looking ahead,” Bolander said. “We don’t want to wait until everything’s built … before considering it. By then, it’d be too late.”
Pool said he’s considering several different engineering companies to complete the study. He estimates it will cost less than $50,000.
He anticipates the study will take about a year to complete.
The process is extensive. Representatives from the company will need to meet with business owners as well as government officials from both Greenfield and the county, Pool said. They’ll analyze how much traffic comes through the county via the current exits and analyze how potential growth could increase that traffic.
While it will be years before drivers seen a new means of entering the county, news of the study is already generating a buzz among residents.
George Kritikos of Greenfield is one of approximately 16,000 county residents who commutes to Indianapolis for work. He supports adding an exit near County Road 200W.
Building an exit in that area would ease traffic congestion that builds near State Street and New Road during rush hour, he said.
The addition of any exit point would completely change the flow of traffic in the area, Pool agreed. Offering an alternate route likely trigger thousands of motorists to alter their commutes, he said.
The county would need to be certain roadways surrounding a possible exit would be able to accommodate that additional traffic, Pool said.
Proximity to the interstate is one of the most common things large commercial manufacturers, which bring hundreds of jobs to the area, seek when weighing a new location for a facility, said Skip Kuker, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council.
Many companies rely on semi-trailers to transport shipments and deliveries, he said. By placing facilities close to exits, they reduce the distance trucks have to travel from the interstate, which conserves fuel and cuts down on wear and tear to the trucks, Kuker said.
“That access brings a huge potential cost savings,” he said.
County commissioner Tom Stevens would like to see an exit east of Greenfield to develop what is now a primarily rural area.
“Realizing that it’s going to take 15 or 30 years to build that out, I believe that it’s time to turn our attention from the west side of the county and start planning for development on the east side,” Stevens said.