Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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September 17, 2008

Ceremony for new U.S. 31 corridor draws crowd

As the Taylor marching band played and admirers lined up for autographs from Gov. Mitch Daniels, Max and Jane Henderson stood under the shade of an apple tree Wednesday.

Call it a sign of progress, but Wednesday’s groundbreaking for the $345 million U.S. 31 Kokomo Corridor was a bittersweet occasion for Max, who was literally born inside the farmhouse next to the apple tree, near 200 South and 200 East.

The farmhouse, and much of the farmground to the north and south of the spot, will soon give way to the massive highway project, which state officials say will become a hub of commerce between South Bend and Indianapolis.

Daniels, fresh from Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate with Democratic opponent Jill Long Thompson, was on hand for the historic beginning of the six-year project.

Thompson may have opposed Daniels’ Major Moves project, the $3.8 billion, 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, but the Republican officials on stage with Daniels had nothing but praise for the road-building program.

State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said he found it ironic that HIS Constructors, Indianapolis, was low bidder on the first contract to be let along the corridor.

“Mitch Daniels saw this was the future of Indiana,” Buck said. “It was HIS effort that brought all of this about.”

Daniels, however, deferred praise to Buck, former State Rep. John Smith and another legislator present Wednesday, State Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy.

“None of this would have happened without the Bucks, the Friends, the Smiths, who cast what — at the time — was a very tough vote [on Major Moves],” Daniels said. “It was touch and go whether it would pass, and [the vote] took a lot of guts.”

Daniels said much of the initial opposition to Major Moves “was honest confusion, but some of it was more purposeful.”

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