County confirms $1.5 million for overpass

The Bartholomew County Council, facing increased spending requests for next year’s budget, has approved providing $1.5 million toward a $30 million overpass over the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection.

The county council approval came Tuesday after Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop made his case for the contribution alongside the Bartholomew County commissioners.

About $1.3 million of the county’s Economic Development Income Tax monies will be used for the county’s contribution, as well as $200,000 from a Telecommunications Fund that receives $100,000 annually from cable franchise fees.

Bartholomew County commissioners earlier earmarked $250,000 each in 2018 and 2019 to fulfill the remainder of the $2 million county government pledge, but those amounts would also have to be approved by the county council.

“This is a extremely tight (2018) budget, and we have a lot of public safety needs right here in the county,” councilman Bill Lentz said, urging the city to use its own funds to cover the remaining $500,000 of the county’s $2 million commitment.

County government will consider $31,145,025 in spending requests when 2018 budget talks get underway Monday. That amount is 50 percent higher than this year’s approved general fund budget of $20,765,218.

But if county officials were to back away from their $2 million funding commitment announced in July, it could jeopardize the $15 million pledged by the state, representing half of the project’s overall cost, said Carl Lienhoop, the commissioners chairman.

Last week, both commissioner Larry Kleinhenz and council president Laura DeDomenic said a refusal could negatively impact local government’s relationship with Columbus-based Cummins, Inc., the region’s largest business, which has already made a long-term financial commitment to the overpass.

Other previously committed overpass funding sources include:

  • $4 million from the city’s Central Tax Increment Finance District funds.
  • $5.5 million from the Cummins Engine Plant Tax Increment Finance District funds.
  • $1.5 million from CSX and Louisville & Indiana Railroads
  • $2.5 million from state or federal highway programs.

Jim Lienhoop said he still needs to raise an additional $3 million by September to meet a funding-commitment timeline set by the state to move forward on the $30 million project.

“We haven’t yet concluded how we’re going to get that covered,” Mayor Lienhoop told the county council. “While that may take some (of the city’s) Economic Development Income Tax money, we’re hopeful we can find another source.”

County councilman Jorge Morales asked if the Columbus City Council would be prepared to make up the difference.

“We would certainly consider that,” Lienhoop responded.

Meanwhile, county officials learned that the overpass timeline may be speeding up.

While the original proposal called for overpass construction to begin in 2022, a newer tentative agreement calls for work to begin in November 2019 with completion possible in late 2020, the mayor told the council.

During the meeting, Morales also urged the city to join the county in advocating for using the construction period to also raise nearby flood-prone stretches of both State Road 11 and State Road 46 during construction.

Not only would raising those stretches in Garden City and along Jonathan Moore Pike be best for the entire community, doing that would also help appease State Road 11 motorists who will be greatly inconvenienced by the overpass construction, Carl Lienhoop said.

The Columbus mayor did not comment on Morales’ suggestion.

Besides a September deadline for local funding approval, county councilman Mark Gorbett said he anticipates other communities along the railroad line will soon be seeking state funds to address their own issues. If Bartholomew County doesn’t move quickly, the state funds now available could go elsewhere, Gorbett said.

The overriding concern driving the overpass discussion is that Columbus will begin experiencing as many as 22 trains a day traveling through the State Road 46/State Road 11 crossing late next year, compared to eight now.

What's next?

Although the Bartholomew County Council has approved $1.5 million toward the State Road 46 and State Road 11 overpass, both city and council officials still need to ratify an interlocal agreement on the matter.

The state has asked that all local contributions to the $30 million overpass be pledged and finalized no later than September, in order to receive $15 million in state funding.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said if he cannot raise the remaining $3 million by other means, he may ask the city council to pledge that amount from Economic Development Income Tax funds.

Under an agreement that still needs official improvement, construction on the overpass could begin in November 2019 and be completed in about a year, the mayor said.

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