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Editorial: I-69 completion sets up economic opportunity

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A 67-mile stretch of Interstate 69 from Evansville to the Crane complex is now open.

Construction of that stretch was funded largely through the $3.85 billion that Indiana gained through the 2006 Major Moves deal — the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, in exchange for upfront cash to pump into pressing infrastructure needs.

That money, though, is now either spent or set aside for specific projects, and Indiana is set to join other states that have struggled to find cash to pump into transportation as revenue from gasoline taxes decline. So the fate of the remaining sections of I-69, particularly the final leg from Bloomington to Indianapolis, remains under a cloud of doubt.

So it is reassuring to hear Gov.-elect Mike Pence say he is committed to finishing the work.

In an interview with reporters last month, Pence, who takes office Jan. 14, said his administration will prioritize completing the project that Gov. Mitch Daniels — his fellow Republican — pushed.

“Since I believe roads mean jobs, I think one of the historic contributions of the Daniels administration has been to make such measurable progress in completing I-69,” Pence said in mid-December. “We’re going to finish that work. We’re going to find out where to do it, we’re going to find out how to do it, but we’re going to do it.”

He said during this past year’s campaign that he intends to launch a blue-ribbon panel to study Indiana’s infrastructure and funding needs, and the options he pursue will evolve out of that panel’s recommendations. Among his top priorities, he said, is finishing the I-69 extension.

The I-69 project is divided into six sections. The first three spanned from Evansville to Crane, and that 67-mile portion opened to traffic in November. The fourth segment extends from Crane to Bloomington and is set to open by the end of 2014. The fifth, from Bloomington to Martinsville, is being planned, and the sixth, from Martinsville to Indianapolis, is not yet in the works.

INDOT Commissioner Michael B. Cline, who will continue in his current position under the new governor, said it’s important to press forward with the Bloomington-to-Martinsville section as quickly as possible because a delay would force congestion that Bloomington’s roadways are not prepared to handle.

The completion of I-69 has significant economic opportunities for Johnson County, not only from the increased traffic along what is now State Road 37 but in the improved connections the region will have with Bloomington, Crane and Evansville.

We are encouraged that the new governor has expressed a desire to complete the project. Leaving the job half done benefits no one.

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