Wait for the green light

Four months after approving the contracts, Bartholomew County officials still don’t know if they will have either the money or the time to pave the final 13 miles in the 2017 overlay program.

That’s because the county highway department is still waiting to learn whether it will receive nearly $1 million from Community Crossings, a state matching grant program, to put new blacktop on deteriorating rural roads.

Three townships — Wayne, Sandcreek and German — have all of their 2017 projects in Phase Two of the overlay program, which relies entirely on the grant for funding.

Although those 13 miles were determined to need immediate repairs after last winter, every delay increases the odds they will remain untouched during another season of unpredictable cold weather, Bartholomew County commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said last week.

“You’ve only got until November at the latest to get the work completed,” Lienhoop said.

Created by the Indiana General Assembly last year, Community Crossings provided $146.5 million in matching funding to local governments in 2016.

The original intent of lawmakers was to announce grants for road work in late spring, county highway engineer Danny Hollander said.

However, financial administrators delayed the program until after a new fiscal year begins July 1, so they would know how much money was available, Hollander said.

Announced on Aug. 31, 2016, the inaugural Community Crossings program provided nearly $1 million to Bartholomew County government, which decided to move ahead immediately with Phase Two that year.

Mild late-fall weather allowed road crews to continue repaving until a few days before Christmas, Hollander said.

Since the Phase Two contract was contingent upon receiving the funds when it was awarded last spring, all the county has to do is give Milestone Contractors the go-ahead, however, he said.

Even if winter comes early, the contractor will still have until June 30, 2018, to complete Phase Two work, Hollander said.

In this year’s Community Crossing program, counties with fewer than 50,000 people — or cities with fewer than 10,000 people — qualify for a 75 percent match rate, paying 25 percent with local funds.

In contrast, larger counties and cities such as Bartholomew and Columbus will pay 50 percent.

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