Daniels Leads I-69 Celebration Through Southern Indiana

Governor Mitch Daniels led a crowd of people along I-69 on Monday to celebrate the opening of the interstate.

Governor Mitch Daniels says building I-69 has shown him there are two types of people in Indiana – the builders and the bellyachers. As Daniels led a celebration today in Washington Indiana he encouraged people across the state to see the opportunity in the new road.

It was standing room only at the Antioch Christian Church in Washington Indiana as a crowd of supporters gathered to celebrate the completion of the first half of I-69. The 67-mile stretch connects Evansville to Crane.

Daniels says the road will create jobs, improve safety and reduce travel times.

“It’s about a better future for young people it’s about more jobs and hope and opportunity in a lot of communities that very badly need them,” he says. “It’s about saving lives. There are only so many things you can do in public life that you’ll be able to look back on and say that really mattered and this is one.”

Long-Time I-69 Advocates Celebrate Milestone

Most people who gathered today to celebrate the opening of I-69 said they did not think they would see it built in their lifetime. One of the roads most vocal supporters, 85-year-old David Graham, says he always knew I-69 would become a reality, and he got to drive on I-69 Monday. To be accurate, his grandson drove him on the road from Washington to Crane.

Graham began advocating for I-69 more than two decades ago. He drove up and down the proposed corridor from Mexico to Canada trying to get other states to sign on to the plan to create an international highway through Southern Indiana. He saw the road as the key to bringing jobs to the state.

“This is a wonderful highway but let’s not forget it was built for three reasons: jobs, the second reason was jobs and the third reason was jobs,” he says.

Daniels called Graham the man of the hour at a celebration in Washington Indiana. Daniels patted Graham on the back and said, “This is your dream.”

I-69 Ends At Crane…For Now

By the time the road and the assembled caravan of supporters made their way to the end of Section 3, near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, the narrative had shifted to how the road represented a number of people and places the odds had once counted out.

Daniels was scheduled to be accompanied by former Milan High School basketball hero Bobby Plump, but even though Plump was laid up by illness and unable to attend, the nearby military installation was inspiration enough for many who attended the day’s final ceremony.

Crane, which escaped cuts during a recent round of base closures, now has an interstate to transport the munitions it uses and the products its tech park produces, says base commander James Stewart. And even though there once were concerns that running a highway so close to the rural base posed national security concerns, Stewart made it clear he does not think the road is a big security risk.

“Most installations around the world are actually built very close to interstates,” he says. “This is kind of one of the few that is not. So actually having an interstate here increases our safety and our efficiency with very little detriment at all, or no detriment at all, to our security.”

Just beyond the large white tent which housed the final speeches of the day, the road snakes on for several hundred more yards – the first step in a very controversial stretch leading from the base to Bloomington.

The first three sections of the road cost about $900 million. Daniels has allocated money from the gas tax to pay for construction of the 4th section from Crane to Bloomington. While Governor-elect Mike Pence has said he supports finishing I-69, he has not identified the funding to finish the road from Bloomington to Indianapolis.

  • daniels cuts banner

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    Photo: Wes Martin/WFIU-WTIU News

    Gov. Mitch Daniels cuts a banner signifying the opening of Interstate 69.

  • Mitch Daniels rides on I-69

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    Photo: Bill Shaw/WFIU-WTIU News

    Gov. Mitch Daniels prepares to drive on I-69 from Evansville to Washington, Ind.

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    Photo: Bill Shaw/WFIU-WTIU News

    Gov. Mitch Daniels rides down I-69 near Evansville.

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    Photo: John Bailey/WFIU

    Longtime I-69 advocate David Graham and his daughter at the I-69 opening ceremony in Washington.

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    Photo: John Bailey/WFIU

    Longtime I-69 advocate David Graham speaks with Governor Mitch Daniels prior to the I-69 opening ceremony in Washington.

Wes Martin and Jimmy Jenkins contributed to this report.

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