By Kevin Rader, WTHR political reporter - bio | email
EVANSVILLE, Ind. -
I-69 will connect Evansville and Indianapolis in two years, but Gov.-elect Mike Pence will have to figure out a way to pay for the work that still needs to be done.
A first stretch of the I-69 extension opened Monday connecting Evansville to Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Martin County. I-69 is planned to eventually run 142 miles to Indianapolis.
Gov. Mitch Daniels led the northbound motorcade from Evansville to Washington, Indiana on I-69. People lined the overpasses waving and cheering the first motorists to negotiate what southern Indiana hopes will be the road to opportunity.
There were pit stops along the way giving folks like David Graham a chance to take a bow. Graham started working on I-69 and the promise of jobs that it might bring as a young man.
"We want to make sure we are ready to complete and work on the efforts to get the road to Indianapolis. Indy is the hub of America from the standpoint of growth," said Graham.
"What a wonderful thing to see a vision you had as a young person come true after so many decades of hard work. I know there must have been days where almost everyone gave up but David, you never did and God bless you for it. Congratulations," said Daniels.
The new corridor covers a 67-mile stretch that comprises what has been the longest contiguous new interstate construction project in the United States. The interstate will open to traffic by 6:00 pm Monday, in time for the Thanksgiving travel holiday.
The governor started the day by cutting the ribbon on I-69 in Evansville. Then after a noontime luncheon in Washington, he was back on his Harley.
Gov. Daniels praised the project for being ahead of schedule and under budget. According to the governor's office, the new corridor is opening several years ahead of schedule and $80 million under budget in construction costs.
The new section of the highway will shave 38 minutes off the commute between Evansville and Naval Support Activity (NSA) Crane compared to alternate routes.
Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield says the project's first 67 miles cost just under $900 million, about 25 percent under cost estimates.
The governor led a lengthy caravan from Washington, Indiana all the way to Crane. The initial 67-mile section connects communities from just northeast of Evansville at I-64 to the US 231 interchange near the Naval Support Activity at Crane.
Another group of Hoosiers gathered there to celebrate the day including Olympic Gold Medalist David Boudia. For the time being , that's where I-69 ends. It is also where controversy over routing and how to pay for it begins. Major Moves money that funded 200 projects statewide will be gone, but the governor insists it was not wasted.
"The money will not be gone. It will be outside this building and throughout our state. It will be there for the next one hundred years," said Gov. Daniels.
That's fitting, since it took over 60 years to get this far.
The project was paid for through Gov. Daniels' leasing of the Indiana Toll Road. The extension will eventually stretch from Evansville to Indianapolis through Bloomington.