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NEWBERN — After more than a decade of delays, it appears replacement of a 102-year-old bridge on County Road 850E near Newbern might get under way next year. The highway department will receive 80 percent of the $1.4 million cost from federal funding.
The one-lane, iron-truss bridge now spanning Clifty Creek is expected to become part of the Columbus People Trail in 2014, providing bicyclists and pedestrians with their own crossing of Haw Creek under 25th Street, just east of Lincoln Park.
If all goes as planned, the pedestrian bridge should be available for the second Cummins marathon in September 2014, according to Bartholomew County Highway Department engineer Danny Hollander.
County officials have long sought to replace the bridge. It has a laminated timber deck that is in poor condition, as well as a steel truss structure that is rusting.
Bartholomew County Commissioner Paul Franke said its replacement, along with securing a new annex office location, likely will be the two largest county projects of 2013.
“The Newbern bridge has been in the works since the last century,” Franke said. “It’s been at least 13 years since we began trying to replace it.”
Hollander notes the one-lane bridge carries more than 800 vehicles a day, providing access to a mobile home park and several residences along Huffer and Newbern roads, as well as County Road 265N.
While the county long ago had obtained adequate funding for the project, several obstacles emerged over the years.
The first came in 2001, when archaeologists uncovered more than 350 artifacts at the site. While those items were mostly stone fragments weighing less than a tenth of an ounce, researchers believed the area was a prehistoric camp.
More than $100,000 in local tax money was spent to carefully excavate the area, remove the artifacts and to document them. But if local tax money had not been spent, the county would have risked losing the federal funds to build a new bridge, as well as receiving a $584,000 state grant to refurbish the existing one.
The fact that the bridge is more than a century old presented the next obstacle. Hollander said extensive paperwork had to be filed because of the structure’s historic status. In addition, thousands of dollars had to be spent on a redesign and soil tests in order to keep the federal and state grants.
But Hollander said the county has obtained a memorandum of understanding with the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board. It allows for a new bridge as long as the current structure is relocated and rehabilitated. County officials had considered moving the bridge to nearby Anderson Falls Park before deciding on the People Trail in Columbus.
The most recent obstacle emerged this year as the county tried to obtain the necessary right-of-ways for the project. Hollander said the county was unable to conclusively establish who owned five parcels of needed property.
“We couldn’t proceed until ownership is established,” Hollander said. “But we’ve been working with the courts on clear-title actions. I think we’re finally through that now.”
Hollander said if all necessary right-of-way can be obtained over the winter months, construction will begin in spring or summer. As the new bridge is being constructed next to the existing structure, the old one will remain in use for vehicular traffic until the new structure is operational.
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