Taking shape: Crews continue to make progress on railroad overpass

Crews from Milestone Contractors are continuing work on the massive State Road 46/State Road 11 railroad overpass project on Columbus' west side. Submitted photo

Construction crews from Milestone Contractors are continuing to work long hours on the railroad overpass and interchange project on Columbus’ west side that will allow motorists to avoid being stopped by railroad traffic at the intersection of State Road 46 and State Road 11.

The structure of the overpass over the railroad tracks along State Road 11 is starting to take shape, with bridge structures being put in place and dirt ramps leading up to the edge of site of the future bridge.

The result, according to project manager Nathan Gaskill, is a more tangible feel for what the finished project will look like.

“It is exciting. You can see what the final project is going to resemble,” he said. “I think at this stage the traveling public is getting a better idea of what it’s going to be like out there."

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Crews have been working weekends and around rainy weather on the estimated $35 million project that is being jointly funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation, city of Columbus, Bartholomew County, Cummins Inc. and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX railroads.

So far, the project remains on schedule, Gaskill said.

Over the past couple of weeks, workers have continued pile driving operations, worked on the foundations for the bridge abutments and center piers and installed drainage pipes and worked on retaining walls, said Natalie Garrett, INDOT spokeswoman.

The piles are driven approximately 70 feet below ground and each pile can support up to 500,000 pounds, Garrett said.

“The new bridge is technically two separate structures and will be separated by a small gap in the center,” she said. “The bridge will share an abutment on each end, with a separate center pier for each structure. The bridge has a total cost of $5.7 million and includes over 750 cubic yards of concrete for footers and piers, 1,000 cubic yards of concrete for the bridge deck and 500,000 pounds of reinforcing steel.”

The next steps of the project include continuing construction on the bridge structures, Garrett said. Bridge beam setting is currently planned for the end of April.

So far, the spread of COVID-19 in Indiana has had "minimal to no" impact on the project, Garrett said.

“So far, the COVID-19 has had minimal to no effect on the progress of the (State Road) 11/(State Road) 46 project in Columbus,” Garrett said. “A large portion of materials are sourced locally and ordered in advance to ensure availability. Project personnel are continuing to follow all (federal Centers for Disease Control) recommendations and guidelines. Project meetings have now gone remote when possible to encourage social distancing."

Currently, the project is in the first of three phases. The first phase should be complete by the end of spring this year, according to INDOT. Traffic interruptions are expected to be “minimal” during this phase, Garrett said.

The second phase, which is expected to start in early summer and be completed by late fall, will result in temporary road and lane closures on State Road 11 and State Road 46.

In early summer, construction crews are expected to work on water mains, drainage structures and pavement on State Road 11, which is tentatively scheduled to be closed to all traffic for 30 days in June, Garrett said. Traffic on State Road 11 will be rerouted on to I-65 during that time.

In the fall, eastbound State Road 46 will be reduced to one lane for around 50 days to “allow construction of various tie-in points between the existing roadway and new roadway,” Garrett said.

During the the third phase of the project, which is projected to start in fall 2020, westbound State Road 46 will be reduced to one lane for about two months, according to INDOT.

The new alignment of State Road 46 is expected to be open to traffic by the end of the year, with some additional work, including seeding and sodding through spring and early summer 2021, Garrett said.

The contract completion date is June 2021.

The overpass project was developed in response to a projected increase in railroad traffic on the Louisville & Indiana Railroad tracks. INDOT has agreed to pick up half of the total cost, while the city, along with other partners, pick up the half of the tab.

The railroad has leased its tracks running through Columbus to CSX, which is expected to result in an increase in train traffic, train speed and delays at intersections involving rail crossings through the city, with the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection expected to have the most delayed local traffic.

The city has partnered with Cummins, Bartholomew County and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX Railroads to defray around half of the local funding requirements in the interlocal agreement, city officials said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held in November.

Approximately 31,200 tons of new asphalt and 4,600 tons of recycled asphalt will be used for the project, and about 460,000 cubic yards of dirt will be poured at the site — equaling around 50,000 truck loads, said Mark Thompson, vice president of Milestone Contractors, in a previous interview.

Currently, 40,000 motorists cross the railroad tracks at this intersection daily. To put it in perspective, an estimated 45,000 people live in Columbus, and 80,000 individuals live in Bartholomew County.

“I would ask that the traveling public still watch their speed in the construction zone and watch for trucks entering and exiting the job site as its very congested and will continue to be for most of the summer,” Gaskill said.

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To learn more about the railroad overpass project, visit columbusrailroadproject.org.

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To view more photos from the overpass project, visit therepublic.com.