What Old Man Winter took away from Columbus-area taxpayers, the state giveth back — and then some.
In early February, widespread demand left local county officials no choice but to pay three times the normal rate to obtain 300 tons of road salt. Seemingly overnight, the price rose from $60 a ton to $191.
Comparing it to a “stickup without a gun,” Bartholomew County Commissioners Chairman Carl Lienhoop lamented that extra funds spent on winter salt likely would mean fewer roads getting new blacktop this year.
However, a new development will allow the county to improve more roads with a fresh layer of asphalt than last year, County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander said. He said the county hopes to pave 25 miles this year compared with 11 in 2013.
While the salt shipment did cost an extra $39,000 over what taxpayers had been paying, that amount pales in comparison to the $800,000 in new state highway dollars Bartholomew County will receive this year.
“Salt seems expensive. But when you compare it to overlaying a road, it’s not that significant,” Hollander said.
In 2013, Hoosier lawmakers agreed to supplement about $515 million annually from state gas taxes and other vehicle fees with an additional $210 million a year.
The money was obtained by diverting 1 percent of Indiana sales tax revenue to state and local road projects. While critics say the decision reduces funding available for education and other valuable services, the change does provide county highway departments with additional funds.
Fewer Bartholomew County roads received a new blacktop last year because the overlay program was trimmed back in order to complete extensive improvements to County Road 600N near Armuth Acres, Hollander said.
The project was the final phase of a 19-year, $10.5 million effort to widen the main thoroughfare between Clifford and Hope. No such project is scheduled for this year, Hollander said.
But Columbus-area motorists will see two significant county-funded road projects undertaken this year, he said.
Bridge 35, located a mile southwest of Columbus on County Road 100S, just east of U.S. 31, will be replaced. Construction likely will begin after the spring planting season and after schools let out for the summer break.
Improvements are scheduled for County Road 325W, just north of the Westhill Shopping Center. County crews will widen the road and attempt to correct two dangerous curves between County Road 200N and the Lowell Bridge. Since the project requires the relocation of telephone lines, a timetable has not yet been established.
Bids to replace the Newbern bridge are scheduled to be opened in September. But cold weather would delay construction until a year from now, Hollander said.