TERRE HAUTE —
Funding is on track for construction in 2016 of an overpass at 19th Street and Margaret Avenue, a priority project because of an expected increase in railroad traffic through Terre Haute.
“There are 60 trains a day that come through Terre Haute, 40 trains on the north-south line and 20 on the east-west line,” Mayor Duke Bennett said Tuesday as guest speaker at the Taxpayers Association of Vigo County’s annual meeting at the Idle Creek Banquet Center. “We are told by CSX [Transportation Inc.] that would go to 118 trains per day within 12 years. They are telling us that is what their projections show.
“Our goal now is to get the overpass done at 19th and Margaret,” Bennett said.
“The idea of moving the trains is not going to happen. That would cost about $280 million to $290 million, and the railroad would put nothing in that,” the mayor said.
The proposed overpass would cost about $15 million.
Terre Haute and Vigo County receive about $2.5 million to $2.7 million annually in federal transportation funds through West Central Indiana Economic Development District, said Jeremy Weir, director of transportation.
West Central serves as the city/county Metropolitan Planning Organization, which applies for the funding. Since 2012, that annual funding has been set aside to pay for the overpass, Weir said.
“We have to accumulate or save federal funding for several years to get to where we can build a project” such as the overpass. “For the next five years we are basically going to be spending all our federal aid toward the railroad overpass on Margaret Avenue,” Weir said.
Weir said other federal programs will still provide money for projects such as intersection improvements or safety improvements, and for transportation enhancement projects such as sidewalks and trails.
The city, in a 25-year plan, also has plans for two other overpasses — one in the downtown area and another near 13th Street and Eighth Avenue.
In another transportation issues, the city has hired a consultant to design a landscaping plan for a city gateway at the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. 41.
“It will probably end up [costing] in the $700,000 to $800,000 range with new decorative lighting, landscaping, new curbing and make sure sidewalks are there for pedestrian flow. Our goal is to make that look top notch, and then duplicate that out at [Indiana] 641 or at [Indiana] 46 and I-70 … probably in 2017, so we have both intersections looking very nice and inviting to our community,” Bennett said.
“I have private funding to do quite a bit of this. All the utilities are going to pitch in, and colleges and universities will help with this and [we] are working on other private groups, including a group of doctors,” the mayor said. “I am certain we will have at least half or three quarters of it paid with private donations.”
Also, Bennett said the city, while still awaiting a final federal approval, intends to remove railroad tracks next year on First Street and construct a boulevard with left turn lanes from Spruce Street “at least to Farrington and hopefully we will get down to Washington [Street] on that.”
Addressing finance, the mayor said property tax caps will remove about $10 million from city funds this year. “Since this has been implemented, we have lost over $40 million, primarily out of the general fund,” the mayor said.
The city has made cuts, the mayor said, but “laying off a bunch of people is not the solution. We are staffed just about where we need to be. We have to worry about quality-of-life issues in our community. We can’t have a big detriment to our service delivery,” Bennett said.
The mayor said the city has 52 fewer full-time less positions than when he assumed office in 2008. “We are down probably about 16 firefighters and about 13 police officers from where we were prior to [my] taking office. We are okay with those numbers, but we can’t go any lower than that. We are at minimum staffing in most departments, so I want to stay where we are at,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he has been appointed to a commission this summer as a representative of the Indiana Association of Cities. “It will look at all the taxes and the whole package and try to determine how we move forward,” the mayor said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.