County continues work on upgrading roads and bridges even with funding questions

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With the Indiana State Legislature debating on taking a larger share of casino revenues from Indiana cities and counties; work on Switzerland County roads and bridges in continuing — with hopes of even more being done after the legislature adjourns.

At the April meeting of the Switzerland County Council, elected officials here made the decision to delay providing funding for a summer paving program. In both 2003 and 2004, the county council had provided $2 million each year to pave county roads.

Until the state legislature makes a decision, paving is on hold, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not many different improvement going on.

Switzerland County Highway Superintendent Edd Cook says that there are some major projects on frequently-traveled roads that are almost complete — and one project that has been in the planning stages for several years is about to get underway.

TURTLE CREEK BRIDGE

“Thanks to the local people who have negotiated fairly and really helped us along, the Turtle Creek bridge project is about to get started,” Edd Cook said. “We’re getting down to the final stages. It’s a lot closer now than it’s ever been.”

The county has been working to replace the bridge over Turtle Creek near Florence for more than five years. Work has been slowed because the county has been involved in a funding program with the federal government through which the federal authorities pay 80-percent of the project and the local government pays the other 20-percent.

“The biggest majority of our local match money has already been spent,” Edd Cook said. “So once the project gets started, we won’t have much of a financial commitment left to cover.”

Edd Cook said that until final design and construction figures come in, he can’t give a cost for the bridge; but said that having a safe bridge spanning Turtle Creek for motorists who use Turtle Creek Road and Little Hominy Ridge Road is important.

“It’s a well traveled road, and that bridge needs to be replaced for everyone’s safety,” he said.

County officials are hoping that now that the needed right-of-ways have been secured that the project will be put out for bid later this summer, once the final designs are completed. Just how quickly the project will start once the bids are approved is up to the contractor, but officials expect the work to begin quickly.

Edd Cook estimates that it will take approximately a year to replace the bridge, noting that the work will also involve new access to the bridge from both directions that will provide for a “straighter shot” for motorists.

Because one of the first things to happen once the project begins will be the demolition of the current one-lane bridge, motorists will have to find alternate routes while the project is being completed.

“One of the things that many people don’t understand is that when you deal with a federal project, it is controlled by the federal and the state government,” Edd Cook said. “We’re almost out of the loop at this stage of the game.”

BENNINGTON PIKE

McAlister Excavating of Patriot is in the final stages of completing the work on Bennington Pike. Base rock is being applied, and if the weather holds Edd Cook feels that blacktop could be applied to the road by the end of the week.

Once the blacktop is applied, workers will then put up the guardrails along the site, and the road will then be reopened to the public.

“If the weather cooperates, it could be open by the middle of next week without any problems,” Edd Cook said.

The Bennington Pike project involved the removal of the old, dangerous bridge that sat in one of the sharp bends in the road. Once the bridge was removed, work began on installing a large, concrete box culvert that will carry the water underneath the roadway.

Fill dirt was then placed on top of the culvert, and it was slowly built up to get the proper curve and downhill angle of the roadway.

Once that work is completed, the road will be blacktopped.

“We also straightened the road somewhat to make it easier on drivers,” Edd Cook said.

The total cost of the Bennington Pike project is approximately $360,000, and it is being paid for using riverboat funds.

“It would have never happened without the riverboat money,” Edd Cook said.

LONG RUN ROAD

The county has also recently finished a stream bank erosion project in two different places on Long Run Road.

The stream running along the roadway had eroded the bank to the point that portions of the road were endangered, so work needed to be done to stop the erosion and protect the roadway for drivers.

Edd Cook said that this project was done by C&HM, Inc. and carries a price tag to the county of approximately $140,000. This project was paid for from the county’s “Cumulative Bridge Fund”, which comes from property taxes and is set aside for bridge projects and roadway issues.

The project is now virtually finished, with the only matter left being to install the guard rail, which should happen very soon. The road has been reopened to traffic.

In order to stop the erosion problem, Edd Cook said that workers dug a trench into the bedrock along side the stream. Once that was finished, contractors layered three-ton pieces of concrete tied together with rebar on top of each other. Stone and concrete were then put in back of the concrete pieces in order to stabilize the road bed and the stream bank.

The biggest piece of concrete used in the project was 350-feet long; while the shortest was about 250-feet long. The project involved two different areas along the same creek, so work crews could move between jobs as needed.

“The work needed to be done before any of the roadway broke away,” Edd Cook said. “It was preventative, but it was necessary that the work get done. With the concrete and stone, the road will actually gain a couple of feet in width.”

Although the work has been completed, resurfacing the road was not part of the project, and Edd Cook said that probably won’t happen for awhile.

PAVING

When asked about paving county roads this summer, Edd Cook smiles and says that right now it’s all a “big question mark”.

With the state still debating on taking more of the riverboat revenues, the county council is taking a cautious approach to spending money. There have been no funds set aside for paying, and currently there are no funds committed to do any paving.

“Basically everything’s on hold with the council until after we see what the state’s going to do,” Edd Cook said. “I can see where they need to be careful.”

There is no money in the county commissioners’ budgets to do any paving, so if the county council doesn’t provide any — there won’t be any paving done in Switzerland County this summer.

Edd Cook says that it takes an average of $35,000-$40,000 to pave one mile of road, depending on the width of the road and the depth of the asphalt.

That means that if the county contributes $2 million in 2005, as it has each of the past two years, about 50 miles of county road could be paved or repaved.

Edd Cook said that the county’s current road inventory shows about 375 miles of roads here in Switzerland County, with a little more than half of those paved.

“You have to also remember that a part of any paving program involves maintaining roads that have been paved in the past two or three years,” Edd Cook said. “If you don’t spend time with upkeep, those roads are going to fall apart. When we have a paving project, it involves paving new roads, but also maintaining the heavily-traveled roads that are already paved.”