County working on Lowell Bridge project

A significant step toward replacing one of the longest county-owned bridges in Bartholomew County was approved Monday.

Financial commitment letters were approved from the county that will make sure the federal government knows that Bartholomew County government will pay 20% of the costs to replace Lowell Bridge, as well as upgrade the intersection of Lowell Road and County Road 325W.

However, the Bartholomew County Commissioners say they don’t expect to receive the federal funds until 2027.

Monday’s vote to make the financial commitment places county government in the same position as late 2018. The project was put on hold when the county suddenly had to make quick improvements along County Road 325W from behind the Westhill Shopping Center to the Lowell Bridge, and along Lowell Road, from the bridge north to U.S. 31.

In essence, the county used rural roads to create a functional bypass for traffic between National Road and Jonathan Moore Pike. The upgrades became necessary when approval was made for the new overpass at the junction of State Road 11 and State Road 46.

Construction on the current Lowell Bridge began on Jan. 8, 1959 and was completed on Dec. 21, 1959, with the price tag at $186,212.

In contrast, “we’re looking at a $8 million to $9 million project,” to replace the bridge, Kleinhenz said.

On top of bridge replacement, intersection improvements for the junction of Road 325W and Lowell Road will cost an additional $2.5 million, Kleinhenz said. It will also depend on an 80-20% matching grant from the federal government.

There’s no reason for motorists to be concerned about using the current Lowell bridge. It is considered structurally sound and could continue carrying traffic for at least a few more decades, Kleinhenz said.

“While the bridge is not structurally deficient, it is functionally obsolete,” county highway engineer Danny Hollander explained. “There’s just a lot more traffic using 325W and Lowell Road today than what they had planned for over 60 years ago.”

Although Lowell Bridge is second only to Southern Crossing for the longest county-owned bridge, it is only 24 feet wide, Hollander said. That makes the structure too narrow for today’s traffic standards, he said. The new bridge will have to be at least 28 feet wide, he said.

While the commissioners prefer not to wait six to seven years to make the improvements, that’s about the normal time nearly all cities and counties have to wait before they can get federal grants for major bridge projects.

“If we tried to do this bridge locally on our own, all we would be doing is saving all of our money for five to six years before we could afford the project,” Hollander said.

That would be enough time for a substantial amount of other infrastructure to become dilapidated, Kleinhenz said.

Many of the recent improvements done along both Lowell Road and County Road 325W in the past six years have been done by county highway employees, Kleinhenz said.

“I bet we saved four to five times more money doing it ourselves over a long period of time, compared to bidding it all out,” he said.

Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said the county also needs to be thinking about replacing the Tannehill Bridge on County Road 650N that crosses the Flat Rock River west of Interstate 65.

“It will be expensive as well,” Lienhoop said.