Overpass project prime example of collaboration

Local residents and others from around the state were reminded of or learned about the “Columbus Way” and its benefits with the July 5 two-part announcement at Cummins’ global headquarters in the city’s downtown.

Simply, it is the public and private sectors working together to address needs or overcome problems. This also is known as collaboration.

And in this case, Columbus had a big problem that would impact its local residents and Bartholomew County’s largest employer, Cummins Inc. CSX railroad will begin running longer, faster and heavier trains on the Louisville & Indiana rail line beginning in late 2018, including hauling freight through Columbus. That’s expected to increase traffic delays on the city’s west-side entrance from 13 minutes now to 20 minutes in 2018 and 40 minutes by 2036 if the intersection isn’t modified.

Such delays are not only frustrating for those traveling to work or home, but also present safety concerns for police officers, firefighters and ambulances trying to attend to an emergency.

Cummins, a Fortune 200 company, also had a vested interest for multiple reasons. The delays affect employees trying to get from the west side to its buildings in downtown Columbus or other parts of the city. And, it was looking at making significant improvements to the Corporate Office Building — its worldwide headquarters located in downtown Columbus where about 1,300 people are employed.

Columbus has been looking for a solution, and building a railroad overpass has been preferred. The problem has been overcoming the cost and the buy-in needed from multiple parties and levels of government.

The leadership of Columbus, Cummins and the State of Indiana, though, demonstrated how collaboration works in announcing how they, Bartholomew County government and the two railroads put their heads together to come up with the $30 million needed to construct the overpass and reconfigure traffic patterns to eliminate the train traffic delays. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 or 2020.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is picking up half the cost, with the other players covering the remainder in various ways, such as funds from local tax increment finance districts and money directly from the county and the railroads.

The railroads would not have had to pay anything toward the overpass, even while benefiting from it, but Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop approached them and asked for help and they ultimately agreed to contribute 5 percent of the cost.

The deal was the result of utilizing relationships and conducting discussions to work through the problem and the needs to overcome it. What resulted was a winning scenario for everyone involved.

The overpass project will reflect an important update to the city’s Front Door Project and allow residents to get to work on time, allow emergency personnel to respond without impediments and remove a crossing for CSX along the rail line. It will make Cummins’ $50 million investment to upgrade and improve the 34-year-old Corporate Office Building that much more beneficial knowing many of its employees won’t have to deal with train traffic delays.

And the project was made possible through collaboration.