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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2004

Indiana, Ohio leaders to discuss U.S. 24

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - About a dozen officials from Indiana will be traveling to northwest Ohio today for first-ever discussions about the U.S. 24 project that will roughly follow the existing route from suburban Toledo to New Haven, Ind.

One focus of the gatherings, being held among state legislators and community leaders, is to ensure that construction of the new road will be under way at about the same time in the both states.

The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce has formed a task force to examine the U.S. 24 project in Indiana, specifically the issue of funding the 11-mile, $90 million stretch in that state.

Brian Bergsma, vice president of governmental affairs for the chamber, said yesterday that funding remains a top concern for the project in Indiana.

Funding for Ohio's portion of the route, expected to cost about $400 million, is tentatively in place and is expected for a final vote in May.

Mr. Bergsma said that no one wants to see Ohio's stretch of the new U.S. 24 completed without Indiana's portion of the road well on its way.

The U.S. 24 proposal calls for widening the now largely two-lane highway, altering its location in some places, and adding interchanges, among other upgrades.

"We just want to step up our efforts with Ohio," Mr. Bergsma said of today's meetings.

The Fort Wayne chamber's task force organized the meetings that are being held today in both Bowling Green and Defiance.

Several state legislators and officials from Allen County, Ind., will be meeting with similar leaders from Ohio during the informational sessions.

Department of Transportation officials also are expected to be in attendance.

Kirk Slusher, planning administrator for the Ohio Department of Transportation's Lima district office, said he plans to give Indiana officials a progress report on his portion of U.S. 24 in Ohio.

The first construction is scheduled to begin there in 2006, he said.

There also will be input today from area economic development officials, who have a vested interest in seeing the U.S. 24 project completed in a timely fashion.

Jerry Hayes, economic development director in Defiance County, said he has already received interest from businesses looking at locating around the area - or expanding their centers - because on the new route.

"It's coming," Mr. Hayes said. "We feel we're over the hump."

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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