By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald
With a cut of a ribbon, I-69 was open Monday.
The dream of many in Daviess County and southwest Indiana was realized as Gov. Mitch Daniels led the opening parade up the 67-mile stretch of new interstate from Evansville to NSWC Crane.
“It is a day of joy for me,” Daniels said. “I had no bigger one but I’ve had many of these including some recently.”
The general public was able to drive on the interstate Monday evening, as the barricades were lifted and the road officially opened an hour earlier than expected, at 5 p.m.
But before the public could drive on it, ribbon cuttings were held at the north and south entrances to the interstate with a lunch honoring I-69 workers. The lunch was held at Antioch Christian Church near Washington.
Daniels, riding in his motorcycle, was greeted at many of the Daviess County overpasses by groups of Amish, some Amish schoolchildren, waving at the parade of vehicles.
Speaking at the lunch was David Graham, one of the leaders of the push towards I-69 for Daviess County. He took his first ride on the interstate with his grandson. Graham said the road was built for three reasons.
“Jobs. The second reason was Jobs. And the third reason was Jobs,” Graham joked. “We want to make sure we are ready now that we have this part of the road completed.”
Graham said it was also important for the interstate to be completed to Indianapolis.
“The grains that are in Daviess County can be loaded up and taken to Indianapolis and from there be taken to all directions around the globe,” Graham said.
Another I-69 leader honored at the Antioch lunch was the late John Newland. Newland was the head of the Mid-Continent Highway Coalition but passed away this year before the interstate’s completion. John’s son Mark Newland said his father would be looking from above and enjoy the road’s completion.
“As was his custom, he would have deflected any credit towards himself and directed towards those who made this happen,” Mark Newland said.
In his remarks both at Antioch and the north ribbon cutting at the U.S. 231 junction, Daniels mentioned the belief in moving forward. Something he believed had to be done for Indiana by building I-69.
“We are all in this together in this big and incredibly variable state,” Daniels said. “In the end, we all rise together. That is a message about I-69 to all corners of the state.”
Daniels made the decision in 2005 to build I-69 from Evansville to Crane by using funds earned from leasing the Indiana Toll Road. By Monday’s opening, construction costs were $300 million under estimates, according to an INDOT release.
Daniels relayed the story of Travis Burkhart, who was seriously injured while traveling to Evansville. He is still recovering, but was at the ceremony with his mother and father.
“She said to me ‘If I-69 would have been there years ago, my son wouldn’t have been injured,’” Daniels said. “The data says that in the next couple decades, an estimated 40,000 wrecks will not happen. Don’t tell me this (road) doesn’t save lives.”
The road will also save time traveling to Evansville, according to a Purdue University study. A report from the Joint Transportation Research Program said drivers will save 38 minutes one way.
“That’s an overachievement all by itself,” Daniels said.
Daniels, who held back some emotion at times, said the road also signified what he tried to do while governor, to “bring this state together.”
“There’s no bigger example than I-69 that we, frankly, walked on coals to help people to pull off the transaction that made this and 200 more projects like this possible,” Daniels said.
A ribbon cutting was also held in Evansville early Monday morning. Congressman Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, spoke during the ceremony. He commended Daniels and INDOT for their work.
“I am excited for the potential, especially for Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, as we open the first three sections (Monday),” Bucshon said. “I can assure you, as long as I am in Congress, I will make it a priority to see I-69 is completed all the way to Indianapolis.”
Commander James M. Stewart of NSA Crane also spoke at the northern ribbon cutting. He said the impact will be immediate to Crane, by allowing goods to travel faster.
Daniels said after the ceremony it was “great fun.”
“The real joy of today was looking at the faces of people who have worked so long and so hard,” Daniels said. “and knowing at long last their efforts were rewarded.”