CROWN POINT | Mayor David Uran made history Thursday by being first to drive onto the newly built 109th Avenue entrance ramp to southbound Interstate 65.
But officials made it clear that nailing the project was a joint effort by a group that included previous city Mayors James Metros and Dan Klein, Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose Major Moves initiative helped fund the project, and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind.
The interchange opens new access to Crown Point and points east and holds potential for new economic development, Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael Cline said. "It's a new future for this part of Northwest Indiana."
Cline recognized the contribution from Visclosky, who earmarked $10 million in funding in the 2005 federal transportation bill for the project.
"His vision and willingness to help moved this project along," Cline said.
In a region often divided by issues, "this project demonstrates our coming together," Visclosky Chief of Staff Mark Lopez said Thursday. "This project is about jobs," Lopez added, citing engineering and construction jobs to build the interchange and new ones expected to be generated by economic development officials hope will be sparked.
Uran said the project was "an example of what can happen when people work together" and called the opening day historic not only for Crown Point but for neighboring communities of Winfield, Hobart and Merrillville.
Cline, Lopez and Uran were joined by Metros, Klein and dozens of other city, county and state officials to formally open the diamond-shaped interchange under the bright sun and brisk winds of an early fall day.
The $15 million project included new pavement on a half-mile of 109th Avenue at the intersection with I-65, new turn lanes to access I-65 ramps and new traffic signals.
It is expected to provide alternatives to congested interchanges at U.S. 30 and U.S. 231, and will "provide major economic benefits to Crown Point and Winfield," Cline said.
Crown Point officials, hoping to gain momentum for an economic buildup on Crown Point's east side in the 1990s, kicked off the project in 2002 when they commissioned a study of the feasibility of building a new I-65 interchange, expecting the result would point to 109th Avenue as the likely location.
A project to upgrade 109th Avenue, once little more than country lane, to handle anticipated added traffic is in early planning stages.
A major east-west artery to thousands of residents in Winfield, Lakes of the Four Seasons and other housing developments, 109th Avenue reopened to traffic Thursday after being closed since June 1 to accommodate construction of the interchange.
Intersection improvements on Broadway in Crown Point, from U.S. 231 north to 101st Avenue, to help handle expected added traffic are to get under way in the spring, City Engineer Tris Miles said.
Traffic at the interchange later Thursday failed to show signs of becoming congested. Only a handful of vehicles used the still new on and off ramps at about 3:45 p.m., and traffic was light for late afternoon headed north and south on Broadway, west of the interchange, and east and west on 109th Avenue.