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Bridge relocation gets back on course

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Funding has been restored to relocate the Newbern bridge to the People Trail south of Eastbrook Plaza in Columbus.

After pulling the state grant 14 months ago, the state Department of Transportation decided this month to reinstate the $584,000 needed to refurbish and move the one-lane bridge on County Road 850E over Clifty Creek. It will be relocated over Haw Creek along 25th Street.

Relocating the bridge will cost about $1.42 million, with 80 percent paid by the grant and 20 percent through local funds, including money raised in 2011 by the Columbus Park Foundation for People Trail development. Funding may be available from discretionary federal dollars, said Laurence Brown, executive director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A meeting involving an engineer and all involved parties was conducted Friday to discuss each organization’s financial responsibilities, said April Williams, Columbus Park Foundation resource development director.

Up to $370,000 in funding is expected to originate from city-controlled funds, Brown said.

Because of its historic status as one of the few camel-back steel-truss bridges left in the state, former Indiana First Lady Nancy Kernan traveled to Bartholomew County in 2004 to present a $584,000 state grant to refurbish the bridge once it was replaced. In exchange, the county agreed to rebuild the span at a new location within five years after the new bridge was constructed.

Eight years later, in November 2012, a memorandum of understanding between state, county and municipal officials was signed that contained a phrase specifically linking the reconstruction to INDOT funding.

A month later, as Department of Transportation planners attempted to free up unused money by rescinding unused grants for older approved projects, the funding was pulled, Brown said.

That was because it looked like the project wasn’t moving forward, Brown said.

City officials traveled to Indianapolis on Jan. 8 to tell INDOT officials that “the bridge replacement was moving forward, we had a plan, and we are going to do it as soon as we can,” Brown said.

State transportation officials seemed to be unaware of any progress on bridge replacement since 1999, when the Bartholomew County Commissioners first proposed a new structure.

“We felt confident when we left that meeting that we could proceed to use the bridge (for the People Trail),” Williams said. “As long as we can show we are moving forward, they are willing to make every effort to help us.

The announcement that funding was restored was made by Brown during Tuesday’s Columbus Board of Works and Public Safety meeting.

In large part, delays developed because county officials had difficulty finding an entity willing to accept the old bridge. For example, a 2007 proposal to move the structure to Anderson Falls fell through after concerns were expressed that the bridge might open up the park to three-wheelers and vandalism. A proposal to make the bridge part of the People Trail east of Lincoln Park was not initially considered until 2010.

Meanwhile, efforts to build the new bridge have been delayed a number of times since 2001 for archaeological digs, historic studies on the bridge itself and with problems sorting out who owns various pieces of the right-of-way.

Federal highway funds awarded to the county are only supposed to be used in rural areas, said Bartholomew County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander. So when Hollander tried to obtain federal funds for the reconstruction, he was told the project was ineligible because the bridge would end up in a city.

When the bridge is eventually moved, it will look much better than it does now, Hollander said.

“Only the truss itself will be reused,” Hollander said. “It’ll need new floor beams, new stringers and a new floor. But I think a pedestrian bridge will be a good use for it.”

Williams also believes that the Newbern bridge and the Columbus People Trail are a great fit.

“We told INDOT officials we’re aesthetically minded and that history has a great significance in Columbus,” Williams said. “We also reminded them this is a great model of partnership between the city and county, and perfectly in line with the governor’s vision of trail expansion. It just made sense.”

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