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Work is underway on the finishing touches of the expansion of County Road 600N — a 20-year-long, $8.2 million effort to improve transportation in the northern part of Bartholomew County.

The 5.6-mile project creates a nearly straight shot across the northern part of the county, carrying Hope-area drivers from State Road 9 to Marr Road, where, after a short jog on to County Road 550N, it’s just another 3.6 miles to U.S. 31.

County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz was on the board with Sylvia Kiel and Juanita Harden when project planning began in 1993. Now in his 21st year as a commissioner, he is the only elected official still serving who was involved in the early stages of the project.

“I have been here with six different commissioners, but we have been able to stay focused with accomplishing the 600N project, even within the realities of individual politics,” Kleinhenz said. “All the commissioners I worked with saw that project as one that our county and community needed, therefore we were able to stay focused on its completion.”

While about a third of the project cost, or $3.2 million, was federal funds, the remaining $5 million was county money and represented the major county road spending over the past 20 years, Kleinhenz said.

“For us to tackle a project of that dollar amount, it wasn’t just something that we could accomplish in two or three years,” Kleinhenz said. “We had to plan it in phases and then consistently solicit funding from the state and federal governments. That was just an ongoing, nonstop effort.”

Kleinhenz said the county was denied funding for various portions of the project about a half-dozen times. However, it was completed without the county incurring any debt.

“We got a great improvement to our infrastructure, but somebody else paid for almost 50 percent of it,” Kleinhenz said.

The county originally considered turning County Road 800N into the major connector in the northern portion of the county but switched because of the improvements already been made to 550N, Kleinhenz said.

“We thought it would be a much more heavily used kind of cross-section of the county,” Kleinhenz said. “It is just a lot easier to get across the county to Interstate 65, to U.S. 31 or even to make a connection on Marr Road and get into Columbus. It really helps commercial traffic.”

When planning for the project began, the road was 16 feet across, with 8-foot travel lanes and poor visibility at intersections. Now it is a state highway quality road, with 30-foot wide pavement including 12-foot wide lanes and 3-foot-side shoulders, County Engineer Danny Hollander said.

“Now it is a safe way to get there,” Hollander said. “It is a good, safe width.”

Hollander and the contractors took a final walk-through this month, and, with the exception of some minor details, he said the project is basically finished.

The county still must make sure planted greenery comes up in the spring, adjust one driveway and deal with some erosion in one spot, Hollander said.

Although the road reopened Nov. 15 and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was Dec. 16, the road won’t be officially completed until the spring, Hollander said.

Although the county does have some improvements in mind for next year, including work on Carr Hill Road, County Road 325W and Whitehorse Road, nothing is close to the scope of the 600N project, Kleinhenz said. But with flooding this week around the county closing major roads, commissioners might consider some ways to alleviate those problems, Kleinhenz said.

County commissioners would like to hear from residents on what their priorities would be for upcoming improvements, Kleinhenz said.

“What does Bartholomew County want to accomplish in the next 15 years?” Kleinhenz asked. “What other large project can we begin designing that will greatly enhance transportation around our county?”

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