City council building framework for railroad collaborative project

City leaders have given initial approval to create a fund for an estimated $30 million railroad overpass at the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection.

The city is proposing to create a non-reverting fund for the overpass, meaning any money within the fund can only be used for the project. Establishment of the fund would make it easier for the city to keep track of the money designated for the project since it is being funded by different sources, said Jamie Brinegar, finance director for the city.

Plans for the proposed overpass were announced earlier this month during a joint news conference at the Cummins Inc. corporate headquarters in Columbus, where Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the project has been accepted by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The state has agreed to pick up $15 million, half of the project’s overall cost. The city has projected the remainder of the cost will come from the following:

$4 million from the city’s Central Tax Increment Finance District funds, which will be provided by setting aside $1 million to $1.5 million a year over the next three to four years.

$5 million from the Cummins Engine TIF funds, which represents excess funds necessary to pay the debt obligation that was incurred to bring the assembly lines for the company’s light-duty diesel engines to the city.

$6 million from several sources, including $2 million from Bartholomew County; $1.5 million from CSX and Louisville & Indiana Railroads; and $2.5 million from state or federal highway programs.

The non-reverting fund would be administered by city Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer and would be audited by the State Board of Accounts, Brinegar said. Once invoices from the state come into the city for the railroad overpass project, approval by city council would be necessary to allocate any money from the fund, he said.

“This puts it all in one place, which makes it so much easier for tracking purposes and so much cleaner for paying out to the state,” Brinegar said.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop also said he plans to approach Bartholomew County officials next month to formally request $2 million for the railroad overpass project. The project was proposed after CSX said it plans to run longer, faster and heavier trains on the Lousville & Indiana rail line from Louisville to Indianapolis that will begin hauling freight through Columbus.

Lienhoop has said in earlier interviews that increased train traffic will head northbound on the tracks through Columbus beginning in the third or fourth quarter of 2018.

City consultant American StructurePoint’s impact study shows Columbus will begin experiencing as many as 22 trains a day traveling through the State Road 46/State Road 11 crossing compared to eight now. The trains will be longer, increasing traffic delays from an average wait of 13 minutes now to 20 minutes in 2018 and up to 40 minutes by 2036 if the intersection isn’t modified, the consultants said.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission earlier this week approved a resolution amending an existing resolution tied to tax increment financing dollars to the payment of economic development revenue bonds. The move would allow Cummins to use TIF money designated for debt obligations for the railroad overpass project.

Bruce Donaldson, a partner with the Barnes & Thornburg law firm in Indianapolis, told the commission that approval would be required by Cummins. Council members would also have to approve the matter since the amount exceeds $500,000, he said.

City redevelopment director Heather Pope said the city has a verbal agreement with Cummins to use $5.5 million in TIF funds toward construction of the overpass project.

Meanwhile, the city is seeking a project manager for the railroad overpass project and plans to send out requests for proposals this week.

The individual or firm would work on behalf of the city and would be responsible for providing feedback and input for the design, bidding, contracting and construction phases, as well as project administration, according to a job description provided by commission member John Dorenbusch.

The city is seeking someone who is familiar with INDOT processes, Dorenbusch said. Compensation for the position would be paid using TIF dollars, according to the city, which plans to conduct interviews Aug. 10.

The commission said it plans to vote on entering into an agreement with an individual or firm selected as the city’s project manager during its Aug. 21 meeting. Dorenbusch also said the city is still in the process of working out an agreement with INDOT on the start date for the railroad overpass project, which could begin in 2019 or 2020.

What's next

Columbus City Council is expected to take action on the proposed ordinance to create a non-reverting fund for the railroad overpass project during its Aug. 1 meeting.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com