When police officers turn on their emergency lights to head to an accident or robbery, they hope they won’t drive on Whiteland Road.
But at least once per day, Bargersville Assistant Chief Todd Bertram finds himself driving to an accident and taking that path.
Most residents get out of the way as much as they can by pulling into turn lanes or onto the shoulder. But sometimes, motorists panic and don’t move at all, Bargersville Fire Chief Jason Ramey said.
So firefighters and police officers need to pass the driver by any means possible to get to a fire or accident, he said. So they commit a driving infraction: They drive over and through the median, often tearing up grass and soil and leaving tracks.
“We don’t want to drive over the median, but given that or delaying our response, we will drive on the grass,” Ramey said.
Whiteland Road, west of State Road 135, is a common route for motorists to get to County Road 144 or State Road 37. Eventually, more traffic could use the road if Interstate 69 is constructed along State Road 37. If that happens, the Johnson County Highway Department plans to widen Whiteland Road so there are two lanes in each direction.
But for now, Whiteland Road will stay a two-lane road because the highway department does not have enough money to widen it, highway director Luke Mastin said. The road was widened in 2012, and grassy medians were installed to separate the east- and westbound lanes and beautify the area.
The medians originally were planned with no curb so Whiteland Road could be easily expanded to four lanes in the future, Mastin said. Two additional lanes can be created by taking away about 15 feet from the median, Mastin said. Currently, the medians measure about 25 feet wide but would be about 10 feet wide if the road were expanded, he said.
“When the road is eventually widened to two lanes in each direction, the new lanes will be located partly where the median is now,” Mastin said. “However, there will still be a curbed median between the two directions of travel, with grass and trees most likely staying in the median.”
Since the medians were built, motorists, emergency workers and residents have complained that they aren’t well-maintained and that they make the road too narrow.
“If they (drivers) do stop right in the lane, it does become an issue,” Ramey said.
With the lanes being so narrow, drivers have now started using the median as a shortcut to turn left into driveways and subdivisions, officials said. If an officer catches them, they could be ticketed. The maneuver also leaves the medians with muddy tire tracks, which takes away from the beautification that was part of the reason the medians were installed three years ago.
And since the medians do not have curbs, soil goes into the roadway, causing the road to look messy, Bargersville town manager Kevin McGinnis said.
“I’m not very happy with the constant erosion into the roadway. They could look a little more attractive,” McGinnis said.
Although the road is within Bargersville town limits, it is maintained by the Johnson County Highway Department. The town and the highway department reached an agreement years ago when multiple portions of land were annexed into Bargersville. The highway department agreed to take care of county roads, including Whiteland Road, while Bargersville’s street department would focus on Old Town Bargersville and subdivisions, McGinnis said.
One stretch of the median, east of Saddle Club Road, is maintained by volunteers from Risen Lord Lutheran Church who mow the medians once a week. The county maintains the rest of the median.
Since last year, six people from the church take turns spraying fertilizer, spreading grass seed and mowing the medians, said the Rev. Mike Brown, pastor of Risen Lord Lutheran Church. Eventually, the church wants to plant flowers to bring color to the medians but wanted to focus on having thick, green grass first, he said.
If the church had more volunteers, it would be willing to mow portions of the county’s medians, Brown said, including the section just across the street.
“It doesn’t look quite as well-kept,” Brown said.
If another organization wanted to take care of the medians, the highway department is open to that partnership, Mastin said. Other residents in the area have considered taking over mowing in that area, in order to see some progress.
Kathy Shupe, who lives in the Hickory Stick subdivision, said she called the highway department last week to find out when the medians would be mowed. If the delay continues, she may go to her homeowners association to find another solution, she said.
“The center section that is grass and trees looks horrible,” Shupe said. “They never cut the grass, and weeds are grown up all through the bushes and trees.”
“I don’t really understand why they didn’t pave it to begin with. It’s just an eyesore.”
County employees are supposed to mow the medians every two weeks, Mastin said, but he cannot remember the last time it was mowed.
“We’re not happy with the way that it looks either,” Mastin said.
The overgrown weeds have been an issue for the department, and Mastin is considering hiring a lawn care company to get rid of them, he said. This spring, county employees planted more grass seed, but it did not make the area as green as he would have liked, he said.
Commissioner Ron West has talked to Mastin about possible solutions to make the medians look better, such as planting wild flowers or adding more grass to fill out the medians more.