Bartholomew County might become part of the first designated international bicycle route.
Under a proposal recently approved by the Bartholomew County Commissioners, U.S. Bicycle Route 35 will run from Shelby County along several county roads before entering Columbus from the north on River Road.
The route will utilize People Trails wherever possible to move south to Rocky Ford Road, west to Washington Street, south to Third Street and then west to Goeller Boulevard.
Route 35 will then head south of Columbus on Terrace Lake Boulevard and wind its way along a number of county roads before joining State Road 11 at Jonesville.
From there, the route will follow the highway into Jackson County.
The proposal was presented to the commissioners by two representatives of the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.
Council vice chairman Richard Vonnegut and policy analyst Marion Vion emphasized that while establishing the route won’t cost taxpayers, it could bring more money into the community.
“You can hope to get tourists out of it,” Vonnegut told county officials. “Long-distance cyclists need a mapped route, and they bring in money.”
Vion said an already established northern link of Route 35 runs from Laporte County to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Another recently approved link goes through the Jeffersonville and Sellersburg area.
He said his organization is asking county officials across Indiana to endorse sections of the route under their jurisdiction in an effort to eventually join the northern and southern links.
“Bartholomew County is another piece of the puzzle,” he said, adding the council hopes to have the entire trail established through Indiana by late next year.
While all three commissioners gave the project their endorsement, Paul Franke expressed reservations about the southern stretch that utilizes State Road 11.
Franke recommended that the council either continue to use Road 400W into Jackson County or chart a more westerly route that utilizes Seymour Road to Courtland.
“I’m just thinking you are going down the wrong way,” Franke said. “I want you to avoid extra miles and get you off the state roads.”
Vion told Franke the route occasionally must be placed along highways in order to provide long-distance bicyclists with businesses that supply food, drink and other necessities that aren’t normally found along county roads.
In addition, Vonnegut said the proposed national route already has been approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation.
The association sets the standards for all federal, state and local road designs, construction and signage in the United States.
After Vion said his group was not getting much cooperation from the Indiana Department of Transportation, Franke expressed concern about the possibility of inconveniencing motorists along State Road 11.
Franke noted that while motorists fund local road maintenance through the gas tax, bicyclists pay no such tax.
But Vonnegut responded by saying almost half of all road maintenance in Indiana now comes out from the general fund, rather than through dwindling gas tax revenues.
“It’s everybody’s road,” Vonnegut told the commissioners.
Vion said there are currently 82 bicycle interstates established across the country, mostly on the East Coast.
If and when Route 35 is fully established in Indiana, the plan is to continue extending the route through Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana on its way to New Orleans and the Gulf Shore.