By Justin Schneider, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer

ANDERSON - With the extension of Interstate 69, the world is getting smaller.

In July, Gov. Mitch Daniels took part in a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of an extension that will take I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville.

"Gov. Daniels pledged to build I-69 and because of his determination, southwest Indiana will soon have a vital transportation asset and economic development tool," said Commissioner Karl Browning of the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The interstate currently stretches 356 miles from Port Huron, Mich., near the Canadian border, to Indianapolis, where it empties into Binford Boulevard. Some hope I-69 will one day stretch across the entire country, connecting Canada and Mexico.

In August 2007, I-69 was selected as one of six Corridors of the Future by the U.S. Department of Transportation, making it eligible for federal funding. A segment of I-69 has been constructed in northwestern Mississippi, existing roadways in Kentucky and Tennessee may be re-signed as I-69 and a connection to the Texas-Mexico border could be the master plan.

But not everyone agrees that the interstate should march ever-forward.

Jacqueline Braun of Anderson opposes the use of eminent domain and so-called public-private partnerships in transportation projects.

"I'm very much opposed to grabbing private property for private companies to profit from," Braun said. "As a philosophy and as public policy, it's extremely bad."

Other opponents have expressed environmental concerns, not only for the loss of greenspace but also the emphasis on the burning of fossil fuels used in cars.

Nevertheless, the first 13-mile segment, spanning Evansville and the Princeton/Oakland City area, got under way in July. INDOT expects the expansion to generate $3.2 billion in personal income growth for Marion, Johnson, Morgan and Hendricks counties.

Daniels and the legislature secured $700 million in funding through the $3.85 billion Major Moves lease of the Indiana toll road.

Anderson officials know how important road transportation can be. In the mid 1990s, the city undertook a $17 million project to reconstruct Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Exit 22 to Jackson Street downtown.

"If not for I-69, Nestlé would not have found a home in Anderson," former Mayor Kevin Smith said. "Our No. 1 mission is to create job growth."

In the meantime, Central Indiana is working to keep traffic humming along its share of I-69. As part of Daniels' Major Moves project, several miles of I-69 and I-465 will undergo reconstruction during the next decade.

The improvements will create four lanes of traffic in each direction along eight miles of I-465 and two miles of I-69. Officials predict a completion date of 2015.

Each day, more than 150,000 vehicles travel in the area of I-465 and I-69, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.

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