CLIFFORD — It will have taken almost 19 years and roughly $10.5 million to widen the main drag between Clifford and Hope.
But the final phase of the County Road 600N project, from County Road 250E to Marr Road, will be completed next year.
This fall, crews began relocating utility poles and underground pipes in front of the Armuth Acres subdivision in northern Bartholomew County in preparation for next year’s road work.
In November, the county signed a $27,400 agreement with the engineering firm Strand and Associates to design the final phase. Acquisition of needed right of way was completed this month, and a contractor is expected to be hired in March.
About the project
County Road 600N improvement project features widening of traffic lanes from 8 feet to 11 feet.
Phase 1: Plans were drawn up in 1994, but funding challenges didn’t allow construction to begun until 1998. This phase, from State Road 9 near Hope to County Road 500E, included the replacement of a dangerous bridge over Haw Creek.
Phase 2: Stretch of County Road 600N between county roads 500E and 250E completed in 2008.
Phase 3: Acquisition of right-of-way completed this month, following award of engineering contract in November. Hiring of contractor expected in March. Construction of final phase, from County Road 250E to Marr Road, to begin in summer after the school year ends, completed in time for the start of fall classes for Flatrock-Hawcreek Schools.
Construction likely will begin near the end of the current school year and be completed in time for the start of fall classes. As with the other two phases, both of the 8-foot-wide lanes will be widened to 11 feet. Shoulders will be added for better safety.
“It’s taken a lot for us to get this done,” County Commissioner Paul Franke said in reference to the county’s largest road project scheduled for next year.
While Franke, who will retire from politics in January, has been the project’s most outspoken advocate, it was former Flatrock-Hawcreek School Superintendent Glen Keller who petitioned the county almost 20 years ago to get it started.
Keller’s greatest concern was the safety of children aboard district school buses, which travel back and forth between Clifford and Hope daily.
“The road was so rough and narrow that buses had an extremely difficult time turning around at the old Cross Cliff Elementary School, which served as a transfer point,” Keller said.
County Road 600N also often was used by wide trucks and farm equipment. Keller said those vehicles left little room for a small car in the oncoming lane, much less a school bus.
But Keller’s biggest fear concerned a one-lane, iron bridge over Haw Creek near the intersection with County Road 525E.
The deteriorating asphalt took a dramatic dip as it approached the bridge. The resulting bump could damage the undercarriage of school buses even during warm and dry weather.
The former superintendent worried that such a bump experienced during icy wintery conditions might send a busload of children sliding off the bridge and into the freezing water below.
Keller understood the danger first-hand. He drove that route at least twice daily between the Hope schools and his home on County Road 600N in Armuth Acres.
Franke and other county officials shared Keller’s concerns and approved his petition. The initial plans for the first phase improvements were drawn up in 1994. Due to a lack of funds, construction didn’t get under way until 1998.
That first phase, from State Road 9 near Hope to County Road 500E, included replacing the bridge over Haw Creek.
But commissioners chairman Larry Kleinhenz said it would be another 10 years before the second phase, between county roads 500E and 250E, would be completed in 2008.
“The holdup was always the money,” Kleinhenz said. “It took a lot of years to build up enough funds to move from one phase to another. But luckily, we were able to eventually find alternative funding sources.”
Those sources included transportation enhancement funds from the state, as well as a federal grant, which will pay for 80 percent of next year’s $2 million final phase.
While a number of Armuth Acres residents say they are looking forward to the smoother and wider pavement, there was both a common concern and a common regret expressed about the upcoming project.
The concern is increased traffic and speed.
“When drivers coming from Hope get here to the end of the road, they often don’t stop,” said Larry Turner, who lives off County Road 600N. “I’ve seen three different wrecks west of my house.”
Kleinhenz feels Turner’s concerns are justified. The commissioner also expects more vehicles traveling at faster speeds in front of the subdivision. But he said he will ask the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department to increase its patrols in the area when the final phase is complete.
Turner noted that two officers who live in Armuth Acres often bring their patrol cars home, which seems to help slow down fast drivers after they see the police cruisers in his neighborhood.
The common regret is that the road in front of the former Cross Cliff Elementary School will be widened three years after the school closed. The building now houses Human Services Inc.
While nobody wishes the road could have been widened earlier more than Keller, the retired superintendent is expressing nothing but gratitude.
“I’ve waited a lot of years to see this done,” Keller said. “The commissioners have done a good job, and we appreciate their efforts in this area of the county.”