Funds sought to fuel project: City seeks grants for overpass plan on State Road 46

Two separate grant applications seeking federal funding to pay for a portion of the $30 million State Road 46/State Road 11 railroad overpass will be submitted this week.

If successful, that would reduce the amount of money Columbus city officials would otherwise have to come up with on their own, said Dave Hayward, Columbus executive director of public works and city engineer.

Bartholomew County government already has agreed to pay up to $2 million for the overpass, while the city of Columbus has earmarked about $9.5 million from two tax increment financing districts for the project expected to begin in late 2019.

City and county officials said earlier that they would seek grant funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation for the overpass project.

One is called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, a supplementary discretionary grant opportunity created in 2009.

If the Indiana Department of Transportation is awarded a TIGER grant for the overpass on the city’s west side, the federal government will pay 80 percent of the costs, Hayward told the Bartholomew County commissioners Monday.

But to his knowledge, the only TIGER grant ever awarded to Indiana was $27.5 million to construct the Cultural Trail in downtown Indianapolis, the city engineer said.

The other potential funding source is the new Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, Hayward said. INFRA-funded projects provide innovative safety solutions for projects determined to be in line with national and regional economic vitality goals, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

Although an INFRA grant would pick up 60 percent of the tab, less than a TIGER grant, it has more available money for more projects than the TIGER program, he said.

Asked whether the city was optimistic about being awarded money through either program, Hayward said he and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop believe it will be a “long shot.”

“It sounds a little like the lottery,” commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said. “I doubt our chances are better because Vice President Mike Pence is from our town, but you never know.”

While INDOT is the organization actually submitting the applications, both county and city officials are required to provide letters of support, the city engineer said.

Although the deadline to submit the applications is Friday, it likely will take about a year for the grants to be awarded, Hayward said.

Local officials hope to begin construction on the overpass in 2019 or 2020, within a year or two of when CSX will begin running longer, faster and heavier trains on the Louisville & Indiana rail line from Louisville to Indianapolis, hauling freight north through Columbus.

City consultant American StructurePoint’s impact study shows Columbus will begin experiencing as many as 22 trains a day traveling through the State Road 46/State Road 11 crossing compared to eight now. The trains will be longer, increasing traffic delays from an average wait of 13 minutes now to 20 minutes in 2018 and up to 40 minutes by 2036 if the intersection isn’t modified.

Earlier this year, the city submitted a plan to INDOT proposing the state build an overpass and a pretzel-shaped traffic pattern intersection at the crossing on Columbus’ west side, which was added to the state’s project list in June.

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