End of major state highway project could mark start of growth

After about 30 years, it's almost the end of the road for the State Road 25 Hoosier Heartland Highway Corridor project. But for the road itself, it's just the beginning.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is scheduled to speak at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Ivy Tech Community College on Oct. 23 to celebrate the conclusion of the segment of the project running between Logansport and Delphi. It is the final leg of the project, which replaces State Road 25 with a four-lane limited-access highway connecting Lafayette to Fort Wayne, ultimately connecting to U.S. 24.

After preliminary studies were conducted in the 1980s, the project started coming to fruition in 2006 through $383 million made possible from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves program, which committed a total of $2.6 billion from the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road toward 104 new roadways with 1,600 lane miles.

Tom Weatherwax, a former Indiana state senator and current president of the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor Association, credits Daniels' program as the driving force behind the road's completion.

"For 35, 40 years, the only way you could do anything was to get money from Congress to build a little here, a little there and piece it together like a chain," he told the Pharos-Tribune of Logansport. "Until Major Moves came along."

The former administration, along with what Weatherwax described as a "grassroots effort" made up of officials of the cities and counties that the new road would run through, turned the three-decade dream into a reality.

"We had each county and city involved trying to make this happen," he said.

Weatherwax said the next project will be marketing the highway in the hopes of attracting businesses to develop the land along it.

"Safety is the No. 1 thing you build roads for," he said. "Economic development and jobs is second."

The Cass-Logansport Economic Development Organization is currently helping work toward this goal, said John Hipskind, the organization's interim director.

"We've gotten more interest from site selectors in the last two months," Hipskind said. "Because it will be so much easier to make that trip from Fort Wayne to Lafayette, it has made the location of Logansport and Cass County seem easier to get to than it used to."

CLEDO's membership in two multi-county economic development organizations is contributing to efforts to bring more businesses to the region, including along the soon-to-be-completed highway, Hipskind said.

And while a business may only develop in one county, Hipskind said the positive effects can be experienced across the region.

"There is a pattern of people in the region that do commute, so if there is a new industry or a new business in one of the counties, it tends to benefit all attached counties," he said.

Realizing these mutual benefits, Hipskind said the organizations within the partnership communicate closely to help a business establish in one of its partnering counties, should their own lack the right demographics, rail access, buildings or other requirements.

"There have been some companies looking at the regional area because of the Hoosier Heartland and it's a matter now of who's got the inventory, buildings and manpower that can staff whatever facility they're considering," he said.

Local economic development along the highway has already started, most recently with the groundbreaking of Sagamore Warehouse LLC, a fertilizer facility at 2179 Stoney Pike in Logansport, about 75 miles north of Indianapolis.

The ribbon-cutting event later this month will include a luncheon at the Logansport-Cass County Airport and a caravan along the highway. While the Indiana Department of Transportation has yet to release a date on the final portion of the highway's official opening, Weatherwax said he is expecting it to be before the ribbon cutting, allowing the caravan to join drivers already using the new road.

A portion of the highway most recently opened last month near Rockfield.

Weatherwax said the festivities will be "the final spike" in what will become a transcontinental highway running through the state.

"Once it's done, you can travel safely in four lanes of traffic from Lafayette to Toledo," he said. "It's a beautiful thing and I think it's going to create many opportunities and jobs for us in this region."

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