Commissioners begins first steps on bridge projects

At least $18 million will be spent by the end of this decade to replace two bridges spanning the Driftwood River northwest of Columbus.

A financial commitment letter has been sent by Bartholomew County officials to the Indiana Department of Transportation regarding the replacement of Tannehill Bridge. The total cost for replacing what is legally known as Bridge 149 is an estimated $7 million.

The letter is the first step in getting the ball rolling on acquiring federal funds for large bridge projects, Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

Under the terms of the letter, county government agrees to pay $900,000 for a professional engineering contract that will cover 100% of estimated engineering costs. However, INDOT will reimburse much of that money after receiving federal dollars for their share for the project. The county also agrees to pay $1.5 million toward the construction phase of the project, and another $1 million to pay inspection costs, the letter states. These monies will be taken out of the county’s cumulative bridge fund.

If the terms are approved, county government will pay 20% of the total cost of the Tannehill Bridge project, while federal funds administered by INDOT will finance the remaining 80%.

A similar letter regarding the Lowell Bridge, legally known as Bridge 170, was accepted by INDOT two years ago. Last fall, the Bartholomew County Commissioners signed an agreement with an Indianapolis engineering firm to begin preliminary design work on a new bridge, located on Lowell Road at the junction of County Road 325W. Larger in scope than the Tannehill project, the new Lowell Bridge will have an estimated cost of about $11 million.

But whenever any unit of local government in Indiana seeks federal funds for such large projects, they must wait for years to actually receive the required money. Once construction finally gets underway, the county will also be obligated to follow federal regulations that have a significant impact on cost, Kleinhenz said.

“We have to get in line with our hand out in order to get started,” the commissioner said. “But without the federal aid for big infrastructure projects, I don’t know how we could replace these kind of bridges.”

Work on the Lowell Bridge is expected to begin after July 1, 2026, while construction on the Tannehill Bridge project could get underway as early as July 2028. However, county highway engineer Danny Hollander says it’s more likely to start in early 2029.

The original Tannehill Bridge was a wooden covered bridge built in 1869. While it was strengthened with steel support posts in 1954, a new bridge was approved in 1965 and completed in 1966.

But the current concern is the bridge’s efficiency rating, which determines structural integrity. While not in danger of collapsing, the rating has been so low since at least 2019 that the bridge has to be inspected annually, rather than the normal two-year schedule.

County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop has been a strong advocate for the replacement of the bridge.