Bartholomew County leaders see accessible internet technology, as well as a new downtown court services building, among the county’s top priorities for 2022.
“In the big scope of things, spreading fiber optics to rural areas might matter to more people than anything else we do,” said Carl Lienhoop, the new chairman of the Bartholomew County Commissioners.
In late December, the commissioners hired Scott Rudd of Rudd Consulting LLC in Nashville, Indiana to examine two separate proposals on the best way to invest $4 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to create high-speed internet in rural areas. Rudd was brought on board because the bids from Meridiam Infrastructure North America and AT&T Internet Services are highly technical and well over 100 pages long, Lienhoop said.
Construction on rural high-speed internet is expected to start this year, said County Commissioner Tony London, who also chairs the county’s Broadband Initiative Committee. London says he’s hopeful fiber optic cables providing broadband capability will become available to any county resident that wants them in as early as three years.
“As we can see with the omicron variant of COVID-19, we are going to have to deal with all kinds of issues using broadband internet,” London said. “There will eventually be no snow days. Kids will continue to have eLearning days. Some people are permanently work from home. The need (for universal high-speed) internet) is only going to grow with regard to health, school and work.”
A new building
In terms of brick and mortar, the top project of the year will be the over $3.5 million Bartholomew County Court Services building, which is nearing completion at the corner of First Street and Lafayette Avenue in downtown Columbus.
“That whole neighborhood is starting to look like a government campus,” commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said. “It’s organized, thoughtful and efficient. It should serve the community for many many decades.”
As part of a land swap, Columbus is paying for most of the costs of the new building for court services. In exchange, county government is turning over the entire block it owns bordered by Franklin, Third, Lafayette and Second streets.
Plans are to eventually tear down the current court services building and develop the entire block into a hotel and convention center complex. That development remains on hold due to COVID-19.
One of 2022’s goals was actually achieved during the first week of the new year. The Nursing Division of the Bartholomew County Health Department completed a short move into a larger facility at 2625 Foxpointe Drive. It’s a transition that provides the nursing division with nearly three times more space than its former location, Lienhoop said.
For the current time , the previous offices at 2675 Foxpointe Drive will be used by a private firm to administer COVID-19 tests, Lienhoop said. But eventually, the 1,800 square foot building will be sold, he added.
Roads and bridges
For road and bridge improvements, a lot of time and energy will be focused this year on large projects that won’t come to fruition for another two to three years, county highway engineer Danny Hollander said.
There are two bridges that will be replaced. After nearly four years of delays, two significant bridge projects southeast of Ogilville are scheduled for completion in August. The two bridges – located along County Road 400W, just south of County Road 550S – both cross the East Fork White River, and are only 800 feet apart.
Their replacement is expected to cost approximately $1.13 million, Lienhoop said. Road crews from Duncan Robertson Inc. of Franklin will begin bridge replacement work in late spring, Lienhoop said.
A new and significant concern that just emerged last week from over 30 corporate administrators and retail/hotel managers concerns the lack of a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 31 and County Road 800N.
While economic development north of the Indiana Premium Outlet Mall has significantly increased the number of westbound trucks on 800N, the lack of a signal at U.S. 31 makes it both difficult and dangerous for semis wanting to head south toward Interstate 65. When trucks go through the mall’s parking lot to the traffic signal at Market Place Drive as an alternative, the congestion and hidden sightlines make the situation hazardous for shoppers and truckers alike.
Although the Indiana Department of Transportation has plans to add a traffic signal as part of a $1.2 million improvement project, INDOT traffic engineer Damon Brown said it’s not scheduled for completion until late 2024.
“We are trying to schedule a meeting with Tony McClennon just to see if we can bump up some of that work,” Kleinhenz said in reference to the Deputy Director of INDOT’s Seymour district. “I’m hopeful we can get it bumped up to (next year).”
Preparing for the future
Crews won’t start work on replacing the 61-year-old Lowell Bridge for another three to five years. With the exception of Southern Crossing, the 420-foot long structure northwest of Columbus is considered the longest county-owned bridge.
But extensive preparation work has to be done this year in order to get in line to receive federal dollars to pay 80% of the project.
The Lowell Bridge project will also include a new road configuration at the intersection of County Road 325W and Lowell Road that will allow for another three to five years.
“The skew of the bridge is really critical,” Kleinhenz said. “We’re trying to find a way to allow eastbound traffic a way to continue without stopping. That’s because 85% of the traffic is either going east or west on both 325W and Lowell Road. “
Cost estimates on a new bridge were estimated at about $2.5 million a few years ago, leaving county officials little choice but to wait years to obtain federal funds for the project. If the grant is awarded, the county will only have to pay 20% of the costs.
But to be considered for federal funds, the county must send extensive information to Washington D.C. this year. Hollander said the county has already applied for a grant that will allow them to begin preliminary engineering, receive consultation and apply for various permits.
If the grant is awarded, work will begin to research and write a geotechnical report on the site, which outlines site conditions, design and construction recommendations, as well as road and bridge designs.
In regard to normal road repairs, maintenance will be done to repair deteriorating roads, Hollander said. But since the price of crude oil required for blacktopping roads has risen, asphalt prices have risen about 15% to 20%, the county highway engineer said.
One of the most expensive projects of the year will be the $1.8 million required to install new heating and air conditioning at the Bartholomew County Jail. However, the county will be able use it’s American Rescue Plan money on the extensive upgrade.