“The safety issue, of course, was primary to me,” said City Councilman Mitch Harper, who helped found the original Fort to Port committee as an Indiana House member in the late 1980s. “It seems like we all know someone who was killed on U.S. 24.”
The old U.S. 24 was a winding, rural two-lane road on which heavy traffic, including many trucks, traveled at high speeds. Between 34 and 41 accidents a year occurred on the old U.S. 24 from 2002 through 2006, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
According to INDOT estimates, about 8,000 vehicles – half of them trucks – used Indiana's portion of the highway each day.
As a child, Harper said, he remembers when trucks would speed along the highway's curves at 65 miles per hour, which was then its speed limit.
"We had a saying, if you'd gone awhile without a fatal accident on 24, you were due," he said.
And Fort to Port advocates also believe the improved highway could help bring new employers to Allen County and keep existing jobs here.
“To me, it sends a more modernized statement for Indiana,” said Mike Landram, president of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce. “It does position us for some more capital improvement in the future, as well as job creation.”
Landram said the new U.S. 24 may already have helped retain jobs in eastern Allen County. He pointed to BF Goodrich's $77 million upgrade to its Woodburn plant, which he called a “substantial investment” that may have been related at least in part to the improved highway.
Harper said the improved U.S. 24 could make northeast Indiana attractive to many manufacturers because the highway will link Fort Wayne not only with Toledo, but also with Detroit and Canada.
"It makes us a more attractive location for value-added manufacturing and agriculture," Harper said. "Completion of Fort to Port is a huge advantage for this area."
The Fort to Port improvements, which include the widening of some portions of the highway and entirely new sections elsewhere, make U.S. 24 a four-lane expressway all the way to Toledo.