County: Lowell Road work won’t be done by school’s start

Ready for class? Not quite

Crews will not be able to complete first-stage improvements to a large section of Lowell Road by Aug. 2, the first day of classes for elementary and secondary students in Columbus, a county official said.
That may require closing the heavily traveled road northwest of the city around the clock for a few days while school is in session, Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said.
Although his department was hoping to get the work done by next Tuesday afternoon, Hollander said he received word that Milestone Contractors, hired to complete the work, had deadlines involving Indiana Department of Transportation projects that makes completing the Lowell Road stretch before next Wednesday impossible.
The Bartholomew County Highway Department is trying to complete the work it needs to before Milestone comes in next week, and has announced some closure times. Lowell Road, between County Road 250W (to the south) and 250W (to the north), will be closed to through traffic for public safety from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, Friday, Monday and Tuesday for road improvements. The department is asking motorists to avoid the area at that time.
The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has said its buses would be able to work around a short-term closure while classes are in session, but Hollander does not expect similar patience from commuters or parents who drive their children to school.
“Cutting off folks heading to the north side of town is probably not going to make a lot of people happy,” Hollander said.
While two to three days notice will be made when the dates to Lowell Road construction closing have been determined, Hollander said a timetable cannot be established right now.
That’s because road crews are awaiting another potential delay from the weather. Thunderstorms predicted for Thursday and Thursday night could cause the project to fall further behind schedule, Hollander said.
One possibility still being considered is to delay the work until fall break, Oct. 9 to 13, the highway engineer said.
The closure would allow workers to level off a small rise in the road, he said. After the leveling, motorists may find themselves driving on a section of stone for a week or two, he said.
About 4,600 vehicles a day travel Lowell Road between county roads 250W and 325W, the area under construction, based on a recent traffic study.
Crews are making initial improvements to offer an alternative to motorists wanting to avoid increased train traffic at the State Road 46/State Road 11 railroad intersection.
Today, the road may have be closed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as it has been a number of times since April. However, crews have tried to keep open it up during traditional heavy traffic periods, Hollander said.
Similar improvements were completed along County Road 325W as part of a $225,000 project done two years ago.
This year, about $200,000 is being spent to soften two sharp turns so vehicles will be able to safely navigate them at 40 mph — about twice as fast as previously, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.
In addition, the pavement will be widened an additional four to five feet to allow two 12-foot lanes, Hollander said.
Even more improvements are ahead.
The Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is looking at the long-term future of Lowell Road. The organization will be considering two much larger projects that include redesigning the entire passage from Interstate 65 to U.S. 31 and the section from I-65 to County Road 325W.
Last week, the Bartholomew County Commissioners announced they will be seeking federal funding to renovate the aging Lowell Bridge.

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