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After More Than Three Years, Another I-69 Section Complete

69a

[photo1]

Another piece of the decades-long puzzle of Interstate 69 is complete, and Hoosiers can now drive the 27-mile section four of I-69 between NSA Crane and Bloomington.

But the project took more than three years to finish and there are still two more sections of the controversial highway left to be completed.

The WestGate Academy Conference and Training Center was buzzing with excitement Wednesday as regional and state officials gathered to celebrate the completion of another part of a decades-long project: linking Evansville to Indianapolis with Interstate 69.

And as Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson and Gov. Mike Pence spoke with joy about the new piece of road, applause filled the room.

It’s a project that’s been discussed for more than 40 years and first broke ground during Governor Mitch Daniels’ administration. The opening of section four means Hoosiers can now drive more than 90 miles of interstate from Evansville to Bloomington.

"One administration with strong support in the legislature…one administration found the money, another administration poured the concrete, but this is what good government looks like, men and women, and we show the way in Indiana," Gov. Pence says.

[photo2]

Pence says it’s about finishing what the state started.

He and other state leaders, including former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, cut the ribbon Wednesday on section four before leading a ceremonial caravan to christen the new stretch of highway.

A Long Time Coming

The Indiana Department of Transportation has been working on section four for more than three years, starting construction in April 2012.

The 27-mile stretch was originally slated to open by the end of 2014, but inclement weather delayed construction.

INDOT originally predicted the cost of section four to come in at $400 million, but the project rang up at $471 million.

"If you have the right infrastructure in the right places, and you take care of it and you maintain it, it opens up jobs and opportunity and investments."

Still, Pence says the opening of the road is about more than just statistics. He says it’s about economic development.

"If you have the right infrastructure in the right places, and you take care of it and you maintain it, it opens up jobs and opportunity and investments," Pence says.

And Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke echoes that sentiment.

"Yes, it does get us to Bloomington faster and makes the trip to Indianapolis, but from an economic development perspective, it gives businesses and industry in our city a more efficient means to transport either finished product or raw material, and that’s a good thing," he says.

[photo3]

But for some, the interstate is less of a cause for celebration.

Dozens of regional and state officials were present for Wednesday’s ceremony, but Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan was absent, saying he thought it would be insincere to pretend to celebrate section four.

Bloomington and Monroe County residents were at the center of the debate over the section’s construction back in 2012, when some land owners expressed concerns about how increased traffic and noise from the interstate would affect their lives.

Several environmental groups also voiced opposition to the interstate, citing concerns about the environmental impact of the road. Groups filed and lost several lawsuits against INDOT over I-69.

More Work To Be Done

The protests didn’t stop section four from being completed, and the state is already moving ahead on the two final legs of I-69.

INDOT says section five of the interstate from Bloomington to Martinsville is on an aggressive schedule and should be completed by the end of 2016 — but the route for the final piece of the puzzle, section six, still hasn’t been decided.

[photo4]

Transportation officials expect to wrap up an environmental impact study in the next two years, but the state still has to find funding for the section that will link Martinsville to Indianapolis — and then, they’ll have to build it.

"Really, we’re working through the process to identify the best route and to develop the best project possible for I-69 section six, so that’s part of the conversation we’re having right now. We’re moving through that process quite quickly," INDOT spokesperson Will Wingfield says.

Wingfield say they have no doubt the road will be completed.

And he says Gov. Pence is committed to make sure the project gets finished.

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