The first month of operation of the new North Vernon bypass has been mostly smooth and quiet, Jennings County residents said.
The project was designed to relieve heavy truck traffic that used U.S. 50, State Road 7 and State Road 3 through downtown North Vernon.
“It takes a while to get used to something new, but I think it is a positive,” said Mike Eastman, who as the county veterans service officer spends much of his day driving around the county to meet with local veterans. “It’s so much faster to get around now; and with fewer trucks on the city streets, it’s much easier when you do drive through town.”
The Indiana Department of Transportation began construction of the new Jennings County U.S. 50 highway bypass around North Vernon in March 2012.
The first half of the project, the western section consisting of 4½ miles of a two-lane highway extending from U.S. 50 northeast to State Road 3 north of North Vernon, was completed in December. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $25 million western section was Dec. 10.
Planning is underway for the eastern part of the bypass project, which will run from State Road 3, north of the city, southeast to U.S. 50.
“Before the bypass opened we had at least one lost trucker a week come into the shop to ask for directions on how to get to Lowe’s or the industrial park, but that is beginning to change now,” said Lori Underwood, owner of Classic Stained Glass and Gift Gallery, located in the center of downtown North Vernon.
Opening the bypass during the the peak of the holiday shopping season didn’t affect sales, Underwood said.
“It’s odd, but our holiday sales were almost exactly what we did last year. Sales were almost to the penny the same as last year, so it didn’t hurt us,” she said. “I think it might make a difference on business in the future, but now I think it is too soon to tell.”
Members of the North Vernon Police Department already have noticed a difference in their workload.
“It seems to me fender benders have already been minimized in downtown North Vernon because there are fewer trucks congesting the streets. It’s safer now, and safer is always better,” North Vernon Police Officer Matt Staples said.
Eastman said he’s heard a few complaints.
“I am hearing some people complain about low street lighting and confusing signs along the bypass,” Eastman said. “Those kinds of things will be worked out.”
Tom Taylor, who owns WJCP Radio on State Road 7, near the edge of the bypass’s route, said he’s taken a neutral stance on the bypass but said it has provided him with entertainment.
“I get a real chuckle watching some of the drivers of the big trucks roaming around trying to figure out what they are supposed to do. I think it will be a couple of months before the truckers’ GPS systems catch up with the route changes. Right now it’s confusing because they are used to going a different way, and you can tell they are unsure. That will get better,” he said.
However, there is one thing in particular Taylor likes.
“All of our lives we have had to move out of the way for the big trucks coming around the corner at Walnut to turn right to go to Seymour on 50. The bypass has changed much of that, and that will get even better when they finish the east half in a couple of years,” Taylor said.