Grants pave way: State awards funds for roads

The awarding of state grant money for local road projects has one thing in common with Milan High School’s legendary 1954 Indiana basketball championship victory.

Sometimes the little guys win.

Three Bartholomew County towns small populations — Hope (pop. 2,158), Elizabethtown (pop. 515) and Hartsville (pop. 390) — received most of the money they requested through the 2017 Next Level Roads: Community Crossings Initiative.

In addition, all three towns qualified for a 75 percent match rate with the state, meaning each town has only to pick up 25 percent of the total cost of a road project.

The city of Columbus (pop. 46,850) will have to settle for about 35 percent of the money it had requested, with a 50 percent match rate with the state.

“We knew this year’s program would favor the smaller towns and counties,” said Dave Hayward, Columbus executive director of public works and city engineer. “But it was still surprising when I saw Bloomington (pop. 84,465) didn’t get anything this year.”

Community Crossings was created by the Indiana General Assembly in 2016. Funds for the program are awarded from the state’s local road and bridge matching grant fund. To qualify for funding, local governments must provide local matching funds — 50 percent for larger communities or 25 percent for smaller communities — from a funding source approved for road and bridge construction.

State law requires annually that 50 percent of the available matching funds be awarded to communities with a population of 50,000 or fewer.

Indiana lawmakers identified long-term funding for Community Crossings as part of House Enrolled Act 1002, an increase in the state’s gas tax, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb in April. INDOT estimates $190 million in matching funds will be available for local communities in calendar year 2018.

The transportation bill raised Indiana’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon, generating an estimated $1.2 billion for the state to fund highway and road improvements. The increase brought the state’s gas tax to 28 cents a gallon.

In addition, registration fees for most vehicles were increased by $15, and the law imposes a $50 fee on hybrids and a $150 fee on electric cars.

In total, Bartholomew County governmental units will receive about $1.5 million from the matching grant program. But of the $1 million Columbus was seeking, the city received $349,816, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Columbus had requested funding for eight projects, Hayward said. That included repaving work on Lowell Road, Carr Hill Road, Middle Road, Rocky Ford Road and the east side of 25th Street. The other three projects called for improvements to Central Avenue south of the airport, 13th Street west of Central and County Road 400N.

Hayward said the $349,816 award leads him to believe that three of the eight projects were funded, but he said he will wait for confirmation from INDOT before announcing which projects will proceed next year.

Hayward and Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander had anticipated the grant announcements were going to be made three weeks earlier — on Aug. 31. Both said the money is becoming available late in the construction season, meaning some communities will have to go through another winter before some street problems are fixed.

However, Hollander isn’t complaining that a total of $836,012 was awarded for rural roads in Bartholomew County. That’s enough money to complete the final 13 miles in the county’s 2017 overlay program. Three townships — Wayne, Sandcreek and German — have all of their 2017 projects in Phase Two of the program, which relies entirely on the state grant for funding.

Since the Phase Two contract was awarded last spring, all the county now has to do is give Milestone Contractors the go-ahead, Hollander said. Hollander said he hopes the remaining work will be completed before the end of the year.

The town of Hope will receive $211,505 from the state, something Hope Town Manager J.T. Doane described as awesome.

That money will be spent to put a black top on sections of a dozen streets that are in need of repair, Doane said. Six are located in the Goshen Meadows subdivision — Midway Court, Hauser, Neal, Julia, Manor and Liberty streets.

In the historic area of Hope, select upgrades will be done on Race, Seminary, Market, Scott, Raymond and Broad streets, Doane said.

Although the town has recently announced plans to upgrade a large section of Washington Street east of Main Street, funding will not be sought until the town is certain all deteriorating underground pipes and utilities are repaired, Doane said.

Elizabethtown’s $59,325 grant will help the town address deteriorating roads, town council president Fred Barnett said.

Streets earmarked for repairs include both Railroad and Pennsylvania, as well as streets located around the Elizabethtown Post Office, Barnett said.

The project list given to the state for grant consideration originated from an engineering company that offered the town suggestions after grading some of the streets, Barnett said.

Barnett felt the decision by the state to give preferential treatment to smaller towns like his was overdue, but welcomed.

“A lot of small towns don’t have funding like Columbus, so they have to rely on grants to get projects done,” Barnett said. “Our small towns are the ones that need this funding the most.”

Hartsville, with about three miles of streets, received $36,946, enough to perhaps put a new blacktop on about a quarter of all roads in the eastern Bartholomew County community, Hartsville Town Council president Steve Rucker said.

“We received very close to what we asked,” said Rucker, who said most work involves milling and repaving that will begin in the spring.

All projects awarded grants this week must be completed no later than the June 30, 2018, Hollander said.

Due to its size, Hartsville was not required to provide the state with specific streets in most need of repair, Rucker said.

“All contractors are already booked through the end of the year, so all the work will have to be done in 2018,” he said. “We have some that are in pretty bad shape, but we’ll just have to wait out another winter.”

Overview

2017 Next Level Roads: Community Crossings Awards

$836,012 – Bartholomew County government

$349,816 – Columbus

$211,505 – Hope

$59,325 – Elizabethtown

$36,946 – Hartsville

Projects eligible for funding include road and bridge preservation, road reconstruction, intersection improvements, small structure replacements, guardrail replacements and signs.

Source: Indiana Department of Transportation

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