County plans repair season: 29 miles targeted for fixes pending grant from state

Bartholomew County government leaders plan to put a new layer of asphalt on 29 miles of rural roads this year, 5 miles fewer than last year’s record-setting distance.

But if state officials don’t approve a matching grant late this summer, the county will instead blacktop about 17 miles of roads during the annual overlay project, Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

While bids for this year’s 44 separate projects are scheduled to be opened May 30, contractors are traditionally given the entire construction season to get the work done as their schedule allows, Hollander said.

Most contractors submit lower-than-normal bids with that stipulation, which allows them to complete more lucrative private or corporate contracts first, Hollander said.

The Bartholomew County Highway Department has a preliminary goal of performing chip-and-seal repairs to an additional 90 miles of roads, Hollander said.

“But we probably won’t be able to do all of those, either, due to time and money constraints,” the highway engineer said.

It costs almost four times more to put down new blacktop than it does to make chip-and-seal repairs, but the chip-and-seal process is messier and far less popular, commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

The decision of which sections of deteriorating roads receive the much-preferred blacktop rests largely with Bartholomew County Highway superintendent Dwight Smith, who makes determinations after inspecting all 700-plus miles of county roads in late March and early April.

This year’s big project involves spending about $200,000 from regular highway funds to smooth out curves along Lowell Road, Smith said.

The county was forced to conduct the road-repair program in two phases last year for the first time. Last spring, Bartholomew County moved ahead with 29 miles for the first phase, then waited until late August to learn whether it had received a matching grant to complete the 5-mile second phase.

Besides the grant, an earlier $1.86 million release of local funds held by the state led to last year’s record-breaking number of repaved county roads.

Although the second-phase money didn’t become available until mid-September, all overlay work was completed last year except for a section of Carr Hill Road, Hollander said.

Ohio Township, located southwest of Columbus, is scheduled to receive 4.06 miles in newly paved sections of roads this year, the most among Bartholomew County’s 12 townships.

Next in line are two areas of northeast Bartholomew County. Hawcreek Township will receive 3.79 miles, while Flatrock Township is set to have 3.59 miles of county roads repaved.

Rural subdivisions scheduled to get multiple streets repaved include Hickory Hills, Harrison Lakes and Armuth Acres.

When the bids come in after the Memorial Day weekend, county officials expect to learn how much a recent rise in asphalt prices might have on local projects, Lienhoop said.

More money for local road improvements is expected, said Drew Klacik, an analyst for the Public Policy Institute at Indiana University.

The city of Columbus and Bartholomew County are expected to receive substantial increases in road funding after a bill was approved last month by the Indiana General Assembly, Klacik said.

About $1.2 billion will be raised annually by 2024 to repair state and local roads. The money will come from raising the fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon and introducing a new $15 vehicle registration fee, Klacik said.

The increase is considered the largest infrastructure investment in Indiana since former Gov. Mitch Daniels introduced the Major Moves program in 2006, Klacik said.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.