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Cost to widen road grows

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The county is paying more than originally planned to widen a major road in Bargersville, but in the future drivers won’t have to detour around closed roads as long and taxpayers will pay less when the road is widened again.

Construction to widen Whiteland Road between County Road 144 and State Road 135 will be finished in October, and the total cost of that work will be about $6.8 million, about 13 percent higher than the $6 million the county borrowed to pay for it.

But the additional cost should make upgrading the road, which is planned as the county’s main east-west route, to a four-lane road easier and cheaper in the future, Johnson County highway director Luke Mastin said.

In the construction project going on now, the road is being upgraded to include wider lanes and two roundabouts that will be able to handle more traffic. When design work started in 2011, engineers offered a new idea on how to expand Whiteland Road.

In most cases, the county will widen a two-lane county road to what Mastin calls a “super-two,” meaning two 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders on each side. That type of project would have cost less than $6 million, Mastin said.

Engineers suggested a different approach, however, because Whiteland Road is becoming part of the county’s east-west corridor and will likely have increased traffic from residential development and when Interstate 69 follows State Road 37 in the future. So the county instead chose to build the road more like a four-lane road, which will reduce the amount of work needed later, Mastin said.

The county purchased all of the land needed and made drainage upgrades that would be needed for a future four-lane road, even though only two lanes are being constructed now with a grassy median in the middle of the road. When officials decide the road should be made into a four-lane road as traffic increases in the future, the median would be torn up and paved as two new lanes without having to buy more land, tear out existing curbs or redo ditches or drain pipes, Mastin said.

County council members approved spending an extra $600,000 to complete the construction. The county has some road funding saved that wasn’t spent in past years. The county is also set to receive an additional $700,000 in funding from the state, which is meant to pay for additional road work, such as paving and reconstruction.

The county borrowed $6 million in 2010 for the Whiteland Road project, before any design work was completed. The county wanted to use a federal program that would pay back 45 percent of the interest on the loan, Mastin said. That program will save the county about $614,000 over the eight-year term of the loan.

After designs on the project were completed, county officials learned the project would cost more than expected.

But upgrading Whiteland Road in the future will be significantly easier than widening a super-two, such as Smith Valley Road, for example, Mastin said. If the county needs to widen Smith Valley Road to four lanes in the future, the county will have to purchase new land from homeowners and businesses, tear out most of the existing road and install new drains. The design for that road was based on the best information available in 2001, he said.

“We didn’t know that I-69 was going to happen. We didn’t know it was going to be an interchange, and we didn’t have the funding to build anything else,” he said.

With Whiteland Road, county officials knew to plan for future growth, which led them to choose the more costly design now. Mastin estimates if Whiteland Road is expanded to four lanes in 2023, the county could save as much as $2.2 million because of the way the road is designed.

“The biggest part of that cost savings is avoiding waste,” Mastin said.

The additional $600,000 will cover the remaining cost of the expansion project, although part of the cost will be covered by other governments. Bargersville has agreed to pay $80,500 for a walking path on the north side of the road that the county planned to cut to reduce costs. The federal government also will pay about $91,000 to help pay for a gas pipeline that was moved as part of the project.

The county also saved some money when annual paving costs came in about $200,000 lower than expected, and $100,000 was left from work to add the roundabout at Whiteland Road and County Road 144.

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