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First half of I-69 extension now open

– Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels cut the ribbon Monday opening the first section of the Interstate 69 extension slated to eventually run from Evansville to Indianapolis.

Daniels joined Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon and other officials for the ceremony on the highway near its Indiana 68 interchange north of Evansville.

“We’re going to have the most joyful motorcycle ride of my 40-year career here in a few minutes,” Daniels told a crowd of hundreds of supporters under a tent set up in the southbound lanes of the interstate, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

The Courier & Press and WFIE-TV reported Daniels then rode off on his motorcycle leading a caravan to a second celebration near Washington, with another later at U.S. 231 interchange where the highway ends near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center southwest of Bloomington.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield says the project’s first 67 miles cost just under $900 million, about 25 percent under cost estimates.

Monday’s opening marked the halfway point for supporters of building a highway from Indianapolis to Evansville. The second half of the highway, which would run from Crane to Indianapolis, has a bit of a murkier path. The Courier & Press reports that another stretch, from Crane to Bloomington, is scheduled to open in two years.

But there is no clear path for construction, or funding, of the final extension of the highway from Bloomington to Indianapolis.

Southwest Indiana leaders praised the new stretch of highway as a potential driver of economic development for an area that has long been cut off from the rest of the state.