IU examining its opportunities along length of new I-69

  • Dec. 11, 2015

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Kat Carlton

Leaders of Indiana University see Interstate 69 as a boon when it comes to partnership development, particularly between IU and units at Naval Support Activity Crane. Wednesday marked the official opening for Section 4 of I-69, the 27-mile stretch of highway that completed a four-lane, limited access highway between Bloomington and Evansville.

“I think the highway has been a catalyst to help our two organizations look at ways that we share the same interests and goals,” said Kirk White, IU assistant vice president for strategic partnerships.

According to White, IU has been working on partnerships with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, for about 30 years. It’s made sense, he said, for the two largest employers in the region to benefit from one another. Crane has more than 3,000 employees, hundreds of whom are engineers, scientists and technicians working to develop systems related to electronic warfare, special and strategic missions. IU is a large research university, with thousands of students and faculty who specialize in critical areas for Crane, such as information technology and cybersecurity.

White said IU took a step back this year with the closing of its proton cancer therapy center and cyclotron. The business, which was struggling financially, had formerly paved the way for large partnerships with members of IU’s physics department.

But IU still has multiple partnerships with the naval base.

The university announced Wednesday, for example, that one of its latest partnerships helped three Crane facilities reduce energy use between 4.5 and 26 percent this fall. The pilot project involved graduate students from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. In addition to the SPEA project, interns from the Maurer School of Law are working with Crane’s legal staff on joint projects related to intellectual property and technology transfer.

“The reason this is so good is that our students get a chance to work in a large federal laboratory facility and gain that experience,” White said. “At the same time, Crane gets the benefit of expertise from one of the nation’s leading research universities.”

White said he expects the new highway will make it even easier for the two to connect in new ways, thanks to anticipated decreased travel times. The base is about a 50-minute drive southwest from Bloomington on two-lane state highways. White expects his own commute from IUB to Crane to shrink by about 15 minutes on the new route.

“Leveraging the two organizations by connecting the various faculty, student and laboratory resources from the campus with Crane are going to make the state stronger and will contribute to our national security in ways we haven’t even imagined yet,” he said.

White said the two already are planning on the next chapter of cooperation, which could include additional faculty from IU’s chemistry, biology, geology and informatics departments. One possibility for future development stems from a 2014 report by Battelle, a research and development organization.

The report identified a need for an independent Applied Research Center to facilitate future relationship-building between IU and Crane.

“A closer relationship between Indiana University and NSWC Crane would enable both institutions to explore and pursue federal research, translational opportunities, endowed chairs and the exchange of research personnel in areas of mutual interest such as cyber security, radiation and material sciences,” reads the report.

In addition to IU’s Crane connections, IU officials have said the new road will improve travel safety for students coming from Evansville.

“The impact of I-69 on the university is a little bit different than maybe everybody else,” said Tom Morrison, IU vice president for capital planning and facilities. “For others, it’s sometimes about traveling to see family and friends. And for us, we’re more of a destination, or using it as a destination stop.”

Perceptions of potential benefits of the interstate have changed drastically since White was on Bloomington’s City Council in the late 1980s.

“It’s been controversial,” he said. “The city and county governments for the most part have not embraced the highway up until the last year or two.”

But in that time, he said, more people have signed onto the idea, opening up doors for economic development and partnership possibilities along the route.

IU is also in the process of launching a new $19.2 million medical campus in Evansville, meaning a shorter trip for students who will be commuting south. In addition, there are roughly 1,100 students from counties along the I-69 corridor southwest to Evansville who are enrolled at IU Bloomington, and about 200 students from Monroe, Owen and Greene counties who are enrolled this semester at Evansville’s University of Southern Indiana and the University of Evansville.

“From the Lloyd Expressway cutting through Evansville, you’re now going to see that IU logo up in the air,” said IU Trustee Pat Shoulders. “It will be a four-year medical school — before it was two years — and we already have four hospitals that have signed on as partners.”

IU does not have a regional campus in Evansville, and this is its first attempt at a four-year medical program in that corner of Indiana. A two-year program previously has been housed at USI.

“I think we’re right on the edge here of making some great use of a new piece of infrastructure that will link Bloomington to the rest of southwest Indiana and open up opportunities for us in both directions,” White said.