Gov. Mitch Daniels joined a contingent of federal, state and local officials Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the final section of the U.S. 24 improvement project.
Dubbed the Fort to Port project, the new four-lane limited-access highway traverses northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio to connect Fort Wayne with the Port of Toledo. The corridor spans about 75 miles from Interstate 469 in New Haven to near Waterville, Ohio, south of Toledo.
The Indiana segment that officially opened Wednesday is an 11-mile stretch from I-469 to the state line that cost about $93 million. Ohio invested $420 million into the project and opened the last improved section in August.
“We came in $29 million under the original estimate and are ahead of schedule” for completion of the project, Daniels said, crediting the Fort Wayne district of the Indiana Department of Transportation.
The project was one of 50 state road projects finished this year because of Major Moves money from the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road.
Daniels was lauded for committing $2.6 billion to the 10-year plan to improve highway infrastructure.
“Before Gov. Daniels took office, we were told there was not even enough money to repair roads, and some infrastructure projects had been on hold for decades,” state Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said.
When the governor announced the Toll Road lease, that changed, Long said.
“It was a bold, outrageous, courageous and unheard of proposal,” Long said, “but had it not been for Major Moves, we would not be standing here today.”
Daniels said the project offers hope and opportunity for the people of Indiana.
“Like many other states across the nation, we struggled with how to rebuild our state, but with this project and others like it, Indiana has leaped ahead of everyone else,” Daniels said.
Daniels thanked a number of people, who he said “never gave up.”
One of those people, Ken Knoblauch, a retired teacher at East Allen County Schools, stood at the sidelines and took photos, obviously excited.
Knoblauch coined the Fort to Port term in 1989, when he attended the first meeting of a like-minded group of people at the Woodburn Community Center.
The group was organized by Mitch Harper, a former state legislator and a current Fort Wayne city councilman.
Harper, Knoblauch and others shared concerns about the dangerous and sometimes deadly two-lane U.S. 24, which was used as a major thoroughfare by many truckers, Knoblauch said.
There were many times when he thought the project would never happen.
“There were environmental concerns, and of course it was expensive, and on top of that we were working with two states and two sets of officials,” he said. “That was 23 years ago, and that’s why today is so exciting.”
The route will provide direct connections to Interstates 80, 90, 75, 69 and 469 and join the under-construction Hoosier Heartland Corridor that will connect I-69 in Fort Wayne to I-65 in Lafayette.
The new U.S. 24 will make it easier to travel to the Great Lakes region, officials said.
Almost 80 percent of the Major Moves projects planned from 2006 to 2011 have been completed or are under construction.
An additional $11 billion worth of projects is expected to be completed by 2015, including the construction of 413 miles of new roads, the rehabilitation or replacement of 1,070 bridges and the resurfacing of more than 6,000 miles of Indiana highways.