Lane closures are on the minds of Bartholomew County residents in anticipation of the state’s plan to widen Interstate 65 between Columbus and Seymour.

The interstate highway, which has two travel lanes in each direction along the 14.25-mile stretch to be improved, will be expanded to three lanes for northbound and southbound travelers during the upcoming two-and-a-half-year construction project.

But during a public hearing Wednesday in Columbus, State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said one question is on his constituents’ minds.

“Will the lanes ever be reduced to one lane in either direction?” the local legislator asked.

The public hearing allowed residents to ask questions about the I-65 Southeast Indiana Project, which has identified E&B Paving Inc. of Anderson and United Consulting Engineers Inc. of Indianapolis as the Indiana Department of Transportation’s preferred partners for the road-widening project.

“I noted that E&B plans on reducing the construction time by 44 days,” Smith said. “Sometimes, they can improve those times by closing lanes during the evening.”

Smith said many of the manufacturers located in the Woodside Industrial Parks at the Walesboro-Ogilville Exit 64 interchange operate three shifts around the clock.

“They have to go back and forth to work,” Smith said.

Regarding the possibility of reducing travel to one lane during construction, “I don’t think my constituents would support that,” Smith said.

When Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Rickie Clark said he would have to research the answer, Smith pushed to get one as soon as possible.

Smith and fellow Republican Greg Walker, a state senator representing Columbus, were among 15 people who turned out for the Columbus hearing. A second and final public hearing was held Thursday at the Brownstown Town Hall in Jackson County.

Walker said all the concerns members of the public have shared with him involve safety and access. But he said federal regulations are already in place that address such issues.

INDOT Project Manager Whitney Carlin said the most frequently asked question he has received is where the third lane will be being added for both north and southbound traffic.

The answer: In the median, which means no new right-of-way will have to be purchased, Carlin said.

Since a third lane has already been added to I-65 between Franklin and Greenwood, some people have wondered when a third lane might be installed along the 26-mile stretch between Franklin and the Walesboro-Ogilville exit for Columbus.

That may not happen for a few more decades, project consultant Bill Denhardt said.

Although that section of I-65 includes the heavily congested State Road 46 interchange at the 68-mile marker, Denhardt said INDOT planning studies show that stretch will not become deficient until 2035.

While Walker said that may frustrate Columbus commuters who get on and off the interstate from Jonathan Moore Pike, the senator said the third lane is primarily designed to handle a growing traffic volume of commuters heading into a major urban area such as Indianapolis.

“You are still going to bottleneck when you get to the Marion County line,” Walker said. “You won’t change that by having three lanes between Columbus and Franklin.”

State Road 58 was chosen as the northern tip of the project because nearly 50 percent of all traffic at the Walesboro-Ogiliville exit consists of heavy trucks, Denhardt said. That has caused more rapid deterioration of roadway in this part of I-65 compared to most other areas of the interstate, he said.

Construction will start at Exit 64 and move south until the project ends at U.S. 50 in Seymour in 2020.

What's ahead on I-65 project

  • The Indiana Department of Transportation has identified E&B Paving Inc. of Anderson and United Consulting Engineers Inc. of Indianapolis as preferred partners for the I-65 Southeast Indiana Project. Upon completion of the public comment period, INDOT will make the official selection of a build-design team for the $143 million project between Columbus and Seymour.
  • The contract is expected to be awarded July 10, which will include a notice to proceed.
  • Milling and strengthening of outside shoulders near the Walesboro-Ogilville interchange of I-65 is currently scheduled from Oct. 23 through Nov. 3, according to project documents.
  • That will be immediately followed by median construction through April 3, 2018, the documents state.
  • The construction schedule also calls for minor work to exit ramps, which is not expected to impede traffic.
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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.