The interstate highway system overlooked this highway nightmare, in the same way that it overlooked Evansville’s connection to the rest of Indiana.
Enter two Wabash businessmen named Glenn Tanner and Jack Porter. All they did was form a nonprofit group called the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor Association. Their goal was to amplify what hundreds had contended for years: Northern Indiana needed a better way to connect all the communities from Fort Wayne to Lafayette.
At one point, that represented 16 percent of the state’s population.
There was even more credence to that argument when transportation planners factored in the connecting points of the Port of Toledo on the Great Lakes just over the Ohio state line and the possible link from Lafayette to I-74 in Illinois.
Looking back, I’m not sure this highway could be built again in the 21st century because there simply is too much partisan bickering about this kind of thing. The Hoosier Heartland came along at a time when it was at first smaller than Indianapolis and Washington, but it eventually became larger than politicians from both cities. Former Lt. Gov. John Mutz once told a corrdor meeting crowd in Wabash that a toll road was the best hope for the highway. That may explain why Mutz lost his bid for governor in 1988. He could have scored enormous points with people in seven counties that day, but he lost votes aplenty by refusing to commit more than a concept to its construction.
The late Rep. Jim Jontz was able to secure funds for the project, but the three things he did that helped the most were to land a seat on a key transportation committee, secure the designation of “priority project” as one of the 21 in the nation identified as most important, and anchor funding in the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act know by the acronym ISTEA (pronounced ice tea).