Earlier start date possible: Officials closing in on overpass work timeline

An agreement that will move up the start date of construction on the State Road 46/State Road 11 overpass could be finalized within the next few weeks.

That’s according to a report given to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission by Dave Hayward, executive director of public works and city engineer.

A new timeline that identifies Nov. 19, 2019, as the start of major construction — instead of 2022 — on the $30 million project was discussed when city officials met with the Indiana Department of Transportation Aug. 18, Hayward told the commission.

“They plan to meet that,” Hayward said.

In fact, state highway officials expressed their desire to seek an earlier contract that would allow utility relocation to begin earlier in 2019 so some construction can begin late that year, the city engineer said.

While state highway and local officials have both placed the overpass on the fast track, Hayward warned there may still be unexpected time delays from other sources.

“There’s a lot of environmental permitting that’s needed on this project, especially with floodway construction,” Hayward said.

In addition, the city will be prohibited from negotiating to acquire necessary land until the planning process is much further along, Hayward said.

In order to avoid repeatedly crossing rail tracks with heavy construction equipment, two tracts of land — one on each side of the tracks — may have to be purchased, Hayward said.

Even if an earlier contract for utility relocation is obtained, it will still take the entire 2020 construction season to complete the overpass, the city engineer said.

INDOT is asking that local governments pay $10 million to INDOT for the project by Dec. 15, city redevelopment director Heather Pope said.

The commission voted this week to recommend the transfer of $4 million from the city’s Central Tax Increment Financing district to a separate fund to help finance the overpass. However, the Columbus City Council will have final authority on the matter.

In a subsequent meeting, both the redevelopment commission and the city council will be asked to also approve $5.5 million from the Cummins TIF district for the project to meet the July 5 financial commitment made by the city for the overpass project.

On Aug. 8, the Bartholomew County Council committed $1.5 million toward the overpass. An interlocal agreement should be completed early next month that would set timelines for the county to pay the remainder of its $2 million commitment.

When county officials suggested to Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop that he encourage INDOT to raise flood-prone areas of State Road 11 in Garden City during construction, the mayor gave no reply.

However, Hayward told the redevelopment commission that INDOT wants the overpass construction to remain a stand-alone project, rather than complicating matters by adding elevation to the two highways.

“Their problem is, where do you stop?” Hayward asked. “If you keep going down State Road 11, there’s another place it floods, followed by another. It’s a challenging thing.”

By attempting to pressure INDOT into increasing the project’s scope by fixing flood-prone areas, local government runs the risk of not only causing delays, but also of potentially losing state funding to other communities, said Columbus City Councilman Tom Dell, who attended Monday’s meeting.

The state is offering to pay half of all costs with a maximum cap of $15 million, but only if other partners — including city and county governments — raise an equal amount by the end of September.

Hayward said he remains confident the overpass can be built for $27 million. But if there are unexpected cost overruns, it will be the city’s responsibility to pay for them, the city engineer said.

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