Getting up to speed

Lowell Road has been reopened from County Road 325W to Interstate 65, but crews will continue working on the two-mile stretch this week.

Asphalt was put down Thursday by a crew from Milestone Contractors, followed by striping of the pavement Friday, highway engineer Danny Hollander told the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

The biggest change motorists will experience is when they approach two curves previously marked for a maximum 20 mph, Hollander said. Now that the road has been widened from 18 feet to a consistent 24 feet wide, the speed limit through the curves has been increased to 40 mph, he said.

“The negative is that speeds will increase,” commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said at Monday’s commissioners’ meeting. “But there was a real safety issue there that we’ve pretty much eliminated.”

Motorists still are advised to avoid the area, as delays remain possible, county officials said.

This week, crews will attempt to maintain traffic as they haul in stone and dirt to fix some steep drop-offs, perform touch-up work, and remove a section of the former road no longer being used, Hollander said.

On Wednesday, county highway crews will borrow specialized equipment from Milestone to perform much of the work, Hollander said. Meanwhile, linemen from AT&T will be returning to the site at a yet-unspecified time to bury new telephone lines, the highway engineer said.

Originally, crews had a goal of completing Lowell Road work before Wednesday’s start of classes began in Bartholomew County. However, that was not possible due to both rain and scheduling conflicts, Hollander said.

However, workers managed to open up the road for school buses Friday, he said.

But instead of schools, commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said his main concern was reopening the road before train traffic begins to increase two weeks from now.

In July, CSX and Louisville & Indiana railroads announced four to six trains would start coming through the Columbus area each day as soon as Aug. 21, instead of the current two to four.

That prompted Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop to warn that small increase could still have a noticeable impact on the schedule of local motorists.

In comparison, there will be about 22 trains a day using that route beginning in late 2018, according to a consultant group hired by the city of Columbus.

The Lowell Road project is meant to provide a bypass for commuters who travel through the State Road 46/State Road 11 interchange west of downtown Columbus, both city and county officials said.

With the exception of the paving, all the latest work on Lowell Road was done by in-house county employees with a budget of $200,000, Hollander said.

Although the original plan called for 2,575 tons of asphalt to be used, Hollander told the commissioners it’s likely more asphalt was used than he originally estimated.

But that news did not seem to either surprise or bother Carl Lienhoop, who is the cousin of the Columbus mayor.

“A 24-foot-wide road eats up more asphalt than an 18-foot road,” Carl Lienhoop said. “But that’s the price you pay for that comfort factor.”

Since the paving of Lowell Road was budgeted as part of the 2017 overlay program, the exact amount of the overrun won’t be determined until after the entire program is completed late this fall, Hollander said.

But legally, unexpected cost overruns are permitted as long as they don’t exceed 10 percent of the original contract amount, he said.

What's next?

While Lowell Road is reopened, motorists wishing to avoid possible delays are urged to avoid it this week as finishing work is being completed. In addition, AT&T will be returning to the site at a yet-unspecified time to bury new telephone lines.

Although this marks the end of the county project, more extensive and expensive improvements along Lowell Road are being planned in two separate phases.

The $2.39 million phase-one renovation involves improvements from County Road 325W to Interstate 65. The second and final phase is estimated to have a $3.57 million price tag, and will extend east across U.S. 31 to Old Indianapolis Road.

However, federal funding to begin these next phases is not expected to become available until 2022.

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