Research Foundation News

April 11, 2019

Underpass overhaul to create gateway to aerospace growth, innovation and up to 3,500 jobs


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – An underpass long identified as too narrow, too low and too dangerous will receive a $12.5 million overhaul to support an anticipated strong upswing in vehicle traffic along a major artery to the aerospace section of Discovery Park District.

The $1 billion district, situated along the west side of the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, is expected to drive economic development, including up to 3,500 jobs. But before those jobs can be generated, traffic needs to move freely and safely through the underdeveloped areas of the district.

A major roadblock in the growth is the Newman Road underpass. The structure currently carries 1,545 vehicles a day, according to 2014 traffic counts. The structure’s top clearance is marked at 11 feet, 2 inches at its rounded peak, which is significantly below federal and state guidelines.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, a lifelong resident of the area, is familiar with Newman Road going back to the days when his family lived on Division Road, west of the city.

“Newman Road itself is a fine thoroughfare, until you reach the curving section with the underpass where you can’t see what’s coming toward you,” Dennis said. “Then you slow down, hold your breath and hope that whomever is on the other side is being just a cautious as you are. It’s risky. While I recognize there is sentimental value in the structure, it is time to get it replaced.”

The Newman Road project is designing a modern structure to accommodate easier access for passenger, commercial and emergency vehicles; promote pedestrian and bicycle access and safety; and create a recognizable front-door presence and gateway to the Purdue Aerospace District.

“The new Newman Road underpass is a forward-thinking project focused on providing a safe, smooth flow of traffic for decades to come,” said Michael B. Cline, Purdue senior vice president for administrative operations. “The new Newman Road underpass will provide excellent access for Purdue personnel and potential research partners to reach the Zucrow Laboratories, and it will improve opportunities to create jobs in the district.”

Discovery district map This map indicates the areas planned for development in the Discovery Park District, a $1 billion investment to transform the west side of the Purdue University campus into a mixed-use gateway for intellectual discourse where residents and visitors can live, work, learn and play. (Image provided by Browning) Download image

Purdue’s Zucrow Laboratories, the nation's largest university propulsion laboratory, conducts rocket propulsion research and other aerospace research.

The city of West Lafayette and the Indiana Department of Transportation secured funding for the project through the Indiana Federal Funds Exchange program, which INDOT administers. INDOT will provide $10 million, and the remaining $2.5 million will be funded by Purdue Research Foundation, which is developing the Discovery Park District in conjunction with Browning Investments Inc.

“Leveraging investment in transformative infrastructure projects to bolster economic development and job creation is a hallmark of Indiana’s success story over the past decade,” said Joe McGuinness, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation. “I am thrilled that this collaboration between INDOT, Purdue University and the West Lafayette community will advance a project that creates a favorable environment for groundbreaking research, innovative public-private partnerships and high-wage job growth.”

With steady workforce talent coming out of Purdue University and strong collaboration from state and local partnerships, Discovery Park District is in a position to grow quickly.

“In Indiana, we’re committed to creating the best possible environment for businesses to locate and create new jobs, said Jim Schellinger, Indiana secretary of commerce. “The Newman Road project is another example of how economic development partners across the state are working together to enhance opportunities for Hoosiers and bolster our efforts to attract major companies in high-growth sectors like aerospace and defense. This collaboration between the city, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Purdue Research Foundation will pave the way for growth at the Purdue Aerospace District for years to come.”

The district includes Purdue University Airport and the Maurice J. Zucrow jet propulsion laboratories.

“When we started planning Discovery Park District and the expansion of its aerospace subdistrict, we knew that resolving the Newman Road traffic issue was one of the most important obstacles we had to resolve,” said Rich Michal, vice president of facilities for the Purdue Research Foundation, which owns the property.

“Once the project is complete, I anticipate that we will have a number of national aerospace companies locate in the district,” Michal said. “We will all benefit.”

Ed Schweitzer, founder, president and chief technology officer of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, would agree. Last fall, Schweitzer broke ground on a 100,000-square-foot facility for electric power research near the corner of U.S. 231 and Indiana 26, opposite Newman Road. The facility, called SEL Purdue, will support 300-plus new high-tech jobs.

“In addition to SEL Purdue, we have a research agreement with Purdue University so we wanted very much to be here,” Schweitzer said. “When we looked at the various locations for our facility, building on the far side of the Newman Road underpass was not an option.”

SEL Purdue joined Rolls-Royce as the second international corporation to put a stake down in the aerospace section of the Discovery Park District. Rolls-Royce, like SEL Purdue, is housed in a facility where equipment does not need to move down Newman Road.

 “Once this project is complete, it will create a gateway to the aerospace subdistrict,” Michal said. “And it will open several hundred acres of land for development, job growth and community enhancement that we anticipate will fill up quickly.”

Construction on the project is expected to begin the first quarter of 2020 and conclude in the first quarter of 2021. 

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org

Sources:

John Dennis, jdennis@westlafayette.in.gov

Michael B. Cline, 765-494-8000

Jim Schellinger, AGras@iedc.IN.gov

Rich Michal, 765-588-3576, rjmichal@prf.org

Ed Schweitzer, SEL Media Contact: Kate Wilhite at kate_wilhite@selinc.com

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