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October 28, 2013

KITCHELL: Hoosier Heartland: The last of bipartisan projects?

(Continued)

Jontz lost to Rep. Steve Buyer in 1992, but Buyer was able to bring Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania to Indiana, and changes were made to the federal gas tax formula that ended Indiana’s status as a donor state to the federal transportation kitty.

By 1996, the $2 million Jontz secured for bridges over the Wabash that are today named for Porter and Tanner were the only portions of the highway built from Peru to Lafayette. That led local residents to join forces with Peru and other communities to sponsor “The Bridge Party.” More than 20 state legislators, a congressmen, then Lt. Gov. Frank O’Bannon and Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, the GOP nominee for governor, all visited the bridges on Flag Day, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the National Highway System. Both O’Bannon and Goldsmith committed to moving Logansport-to-Lafayette forward if they were elected. When O’Bannon won, his Crossroads 2000 Program provided pivotal funding to begin the work. After O’Bannon’s death and the election of Mitch Daniels as governor, his Major Moves Program generated enough capital through the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road to build the highway. In fact, after a call to move up the deadline to build the highway, Daniels and his Indiana Department of Transportation team responded to make it happen. Former Rep. Chris Chocola also secured funding for the Burlington interchange in Logansport.

It has taken officials from both parties — working together — most of 30 years to build this highway. It’s a testament to what can happen when communities and counties work together, when state and local government work together, when state government and the federal government work together, and when we all hold everyone accountable for their actions.

State Sen. Tom Weatherwax, along with Porter and Tanner, have something on the corridor named for them. But there are plenty of others to thank, from the late Jim Weaver who served as president of the corridor assoociation to Larry Muffett, who was instrumental in pulling off the Bridge Party along with Tom Slusser, Dick Dilling and the late Al Van Wormer who fed everyone who attended, and left the party in an ambulance. It was Jontz who turned heads when he secured funding for bridges built in the wilderness with no roads attached, and there were mayors from Lafayette’s Jim Riehle and Dave Heath to Logansport’s John Davis, Dick Hettinger, Bill Vernon and Mike Fincher, who crossed party lines to endorse Daniels’ approach to funding highways. Davis also worked on the project along with State Reps. Bob Sabatini, Rich McClain, Bill Friend, Claire Leuck and Sheila Klinker, as well as the late State Sen. Harold “Potch” Wheeler of Wabash. Not the least of the supporters was former Indiana University economist Morton Marcus who spoke at the initial Heartland meeting in Peru on a cold Saturday morning more than 25 years ago. He was a pit bull on this issue, and he never let go of this bone.

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