HANCOCK COUNTY – A reported rejection on a $20 billion megasite and the potential for a similar opportunity are driving discussion on a new interstate interchange in the county.

The county’s executive and fiscal bodies plan to meet in public on an upcoming evening to discuss the need for the connection and what it would take.

Officials have contemplated an Interstate 70 interchange at CR 200W for years, but the matter recently resurfaced amid a search for help with economic development needs.

The Hancock County Commissioners issued a request for proposals and qualifications for a build-operate-transfer agreement for economic development projects, including exploring that interchange and other infrastructure needs in Buck Creek Township. Hancock County Development Partners, LLC, made up of several area construction, development and engineering firms, submitted the only proposal. The document requests entering into a scoping period to evaluate what kinds of projects the county may want to pursue and fund.

The commissioners tabled consideration of the proposal after Hancock County Council member Keely Butrum questioned whether the initiative was publicized correctly and raised concerns over county commissioner John Jessup’s professional relationship with a construction company that’s part of Hancock County Development Partners.

Officials debated the need for the interchange at a recent county budget, efficiency and revenue committee meeting.

Jessup said that a Chicago-based developer has control of about 3,000 acres near I-70 and CR 200W with a desire to facilitate a megasite involving an extensive manufacturing project. He later identified the developer as 5M Group. An executive with the company did not return a request for comment.

Jessup also said Intel Corp. visited and considered the area for its forthcoming $20 billion semiconductor facility before deciding on Ohio, adding Hancock County’s lack of plans for an interchange at CR 200W swayed the tech giant’s decision.

Intel did not return a request for comment.

Jim Shelby, a county council member, supports the interchange.

“I look upon this as looking ahead to where we’re building something for the future that will help the total economic development not only of the west side, but probably the whole county,” he said. “…[T]he big companies, the good jobs want to have certain things and you don’t have to have the infrastructure in to attract them, but you have to have the plan in place for that infrastructure. So if we really want, I think, some really good jobs in the county, we need to have at least a plan for the infrastructure that will draw that kind of a company.”

Council member Mary Noe expressed indifference toward the interchange.

“I could care less,” she said. “If it happens, it happens. I’m still to a point where I feel like we have got a very defined industrial park area” near the Indianapolis Regional Airport and between CR 300W and the Hancock/Marion county line, “and maybe that’s all I want to see in that part of our county. I still like the rural setting. How big do we want our industrial area to be?”

Council member Kent Fisk said an interchange is needed regardless of the surrounding economic development implications. He noted I-70 only has two interchanges in the county – at Mt. Comfort Road and SR 9, which are 10 miles apart.

“We bottleneck horribly right now, whether we get a megasite or not,” he said. “We have interstate traffic problems because we don’t have enough access.”

The connection would require an interstate justification study. Council members debated whether they’d like to entertain that as a part of Hancock County Development Partners’ build-operate-transfer proposal before ultimately deciding they want to learn more about the process from county highway engineer Gary Pool. He’s slated to speak during a special meeting of the county council and commissioners at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14 in the Commissioners Courtroom at the Hancock County Annex Building, 111 American Legion Place, Greenfield.

Pool touched on the topic at a recent county redevelopment commission meeting. He said another interchange will be needed in the next decade or so if officials want to continue fostering development in the western part of the county.

Pool referred to Mt. Comfort Road, whose corridor has been attracting development and traffic and prompting the need for roundabouts at crossroads along it.

“If we keep adding traffic generators to the east, those legs will eventually start reducing their level of service,” he said. “I would like to have another interchange to relieve that if we want to continue developing out there.”

He said he plans to present county leaders with an option to have the highway department spearhead the interstate justification study if they don’t want Hancock County Development Partners to.

“I know we’re boring and I know we’re slow,” Pool quipped, “but we can get a lot of grants and get things done with a lot of other people paying for things.”

He added that the interchange justification study and accompanying environmental report would allow for an official ask to get the project on the Indiana Department of Transportation’s capital program. While nothing is definite yet, his research has indicated the work for those analyses would cost between $250,000 and $380,000.

Whatever the cost of the interchange itself ends up being, the county would likely be responsible for at least 20% and at most 50%.

Fisk, also a redevelopment commission member, reiterated his point about I-70’s lengthy distance between Mt. Comfort Road and SR 9, and Pool agreed.

“I, as the county highway engineer, would like to see another access point there,” Pool said. “It’s a long stretch between Greenfield and Mt. Comfort.”