Commissioners to hold public meeting to discuss relocation of Markland Pike

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Markland Pike is one of the most traveled roads in Switzerland County, being used by locals in the upper parts of the county to access the Markland Dam bridge; and the road has also been discovered as a shortcut for visitors trying to find a shorter way to Belterra Casino Resort and Spa.

With the ongoing work by the State of Indiana that keeps State Road 129 closed to traffic for much of the summer, Markland Pike is getting even more busy.

And as it gets busier – it also gets more dangerous.

At Monday’s meeting of the Switzerland County Commissioners, the future of Markland Pike was discussed along with different options – including a major redirection of the roadway.

Doug Dagley, project engineer for Janssen & Spaans Engineering in Indianapolis, told the commissioners that his firm has been doing some preliminary work on different options in dealing with Markland Pike, and presented some of those options to the commissioners.

“The questions are how to straighten it out and how to make it safer,” Doug Dagley said. “Right now 13-percent of county accidents happen on Markland Pike, and that’s just the accidents that are reported. No one knows how many others occur that no one reports.”

According to the preliminary report that Doug Dagley presented to the commissioners, traffic studies show that the average traffic on Markland Pike is 1,100 per day. Most of those drivers use the road as a short cut between State Road 56 and State Road 156, and the report noted that if those drivers chose to state on the state roads rather than use Markland Pike, it would be an additional nine miles per day.

That calculates to an additional vehicle cost of $1.5 million per year just to travel a safer route. According to a cost benefit analysis that the engineering firm did, realigning the road in some fashion will save $77,000 per year as well as give drivers a safer road to travel on.

Doug Dagley showed through large satellite images three possible alignments for a new Markland Pike, all of which would be located on top of the hill. He also discussed how those possible alignments would affect distance.

He also discussed how a new alignment for Markland Pike could eliminate heavy traffic, and said that one possibility is for the new alignment to come off of State Road 101 – which comes across the Markland Dam – and then go up the hill. With that option, there are six different alignment possibilities at this time.

Doug Dagley stressed that all of the options were very preliminary at this point, and that the commissioners are just beginning to look at what to do with the road. Another option would be for the road to follow the power lines up the hill, which would be the straightest route.

The option of coming off of the Markland Dam is interesting in that discussions have gone on for years about whether or not the county should actively lobby the state to extend State Road 101 to the north, with an eventual goal of connecting the Markland Dam road to Highway 50 – and beyond.

With State Road 129 running north from Highway 50 to Batesville, where it intersects Interstate 74, a new state road running north would in essence connect Interstate 74 running across the middle of Indiana to Interstate 71, which runs south of Switzerland County and connects Louisville and Cincinnati.

This would hold the potential to allow for substantial development of this area of the state, bringing jobs and commerce, but to this point the state has been unwilling to put the new road on its schedule.

Should the county decide to realign Markland Pike and bring it to State Road 101 rather than where it is located now, which is to the west, conceivably the county project could “jump start” the state towards extending what the county has already done.

But such a project also carries a big price tag.

Commission president Craig Bond said that a realignment of Markland Dam, particularly if it does move to align with the Markland Dam, will carry a price tag of $8-$10 million; but if the county works with state and federal officials, the cost to the county could go way down.

“This is a very inexpensive way of getting started,” Craig Bond said. “We are looking for an alignment that will bring the county the most state money and the most federal money. We could get back as much as 80-percent of the cost of the project.”

Knowing that such a project will surely draw public interest, the commissioner announced that they will have a public meeting on this matter on Monday evening, April 2nd, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the meeting room in the basement of the courthouse annex.

“We definitely need to get the public involved in this,” commissioner K.C. Banta said. “I encourage the public to get involved because this is a big project.”

Although just what will be done is still undecided, the commissioners feel that the danger to motorists on the current Markland Pike make this a matter that needs to be addressed.

“We’ve got to find a better way to get up off that river,” Craig Bond said.