Just in time for holiday travel, Interstate 69 is officially open to the west edge of Johnson County.
Indiana Department of Transportation officials gathered with construction workers Friday to open the ramp from State Road 144 to southbound I-69, formally completing the interchange between the two roads. The shielding, or the unveiling of the new I-69 sign post, marks a significant milestone for the $2 billion project which will connect Martinsville to Indianapolis in 2024, INDOT Commissioner Mike Smith said at Friday’s event.
“We are extremely excited to be out here to shield and officially kick off a section of I-69 from Martinsville to State Road 144,” Smith said. “It’s an exciting time for transportation and infrastructure here in Indiana. Our state is the only state working on and opening a new section of interstate as we speak.”
Smith, along with Jermaine Hannon, administrator for the Federal Highway Administration’s Indiana division, and Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, spoke at the opening ceremony marking the completion of the project through Morgan County.
The shielding was about a year after the ceremony that marked the completion of the project to Martinsville. This year crews have completed work in Martinsville and the section between the city and State Road 144.
The interstate extension means people driving north from Evansville won’t see a stop light until they reach Smith Valley Road in Greenwood. It is expected to reduce commute times and crashes while increasing commerce and attracting investment in the corridor that stretches across southern Indiana.
The new stretch of highway is part of an interstate that has been 50 years in the making. While I-69 between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis opened in 1971, it took until the early 2000s for state officials to make the southern part of the project a priority, and until 2008 for construction to begin.
The stretch of road to be built in Johnson and Marion counties in the next two years will end the project’s more than a decade-long march north from Evansville.
Workers have now completed about 60% of the project between Morgan County and Interstate 465 in Indianapolis, including the completed road in Morgan County and preparation work that has been underway this year in Johnson and Marion counties.
Mainline construction, or work to bring State Road 37 up to interstate quality, in Johnson County is set to begin next year between State Road 144 and Fairview Road. The final mainline section from Fairview Road to I-465 is set to be constructed in 2024.
Right now the new interstate is about 85% complete in Johnson County. This year several county roads in White River Township have also been converted to dead ends and access roads have been built to take local traffic around the interstate and two of three interchanges in Johnson County are complete.
With the County Line Road and State Road 144 interchanges open, the Smith Valley Road interchange is the only Johnson County interchange still under construction. It is expected to open in the coming year, said INDOT spokesperson Natalie Garrett said in an email.
Interchange and mainline work will continue this year in Johnson County, but most of the remaining work will take place in Marion County. There, the Southport Road interchange is partially open and on schedule to fully open in the spring. Construction work will also ramp up on and near I-465 next year, Garrett said.
When the Carson Avenue overpass reopens to traffic later this month, it will mark the completion of all five I-465 bridges that had to be redone in preparation for I-69. Workers will also add a lane in each direction to I-465 next year between Interstate 65 and Interstate 70 in preparation for the I-69 to I-465 interchange, Garrett said.
The final stretch of the interstate wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of construction workers, said Bray, a Martinsville Republican who represents portions of Morgan County and White River Township.
“Perhaps the most significant are the folks in the green or orange coats, working when it’s 95 degrees out or pouring down rain or when it’s a (freezing) day like we have this afternoon. They’re making sure this project gets done and done on time,” Bray said.