News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 29, 2014

Still a long road: Completion of $150M bypass almost three years away

Travelers happily using portions of new highway

TERRE HAUTE — The roadway designed to circumvent southside Terre Haute’s traffic congestion and connect major transportation arteries to the city’s south and east won’t be completed for nearly another three years. If popularity of the portion of Indiana 641 already open is any indication, that completion date will be eagerly anticipated.

The next phase of construction on the project will begin within days. Work this year on the bypass will be done in two phases, 3 and 4, starting in mid- to late-April, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation. The remaining work will span three construction seasons, with Indiana 641 now scheduled to open in the fall of 2016.

The current roadway connects U.S. 41 with an interchange at McDaniel Road and to the four lanes of Canal Road and 13th Street, allowing residents and commuters easier access in and out of the city.

It’s a route Brian Wilkes, who works as a site supervisor for Securitas in the Vigo County Industrial Park, travels almost daily.

“It saves me so much time and effort because I don’t have the stoplights, I don’t have the traffic,” Wilkes said. “I can cut across on the bypass and go in 10 to 15 minutes what it would take me probably half an hour or 35 minutes to do driving straight up U.S. 41.”

He also takes the trip several times a week to his company’s office on Ohio Street, just east of downtown Terre Haute. “It really is a big time-saver for me,” he said of the bypass.

Wilkes said that when the 6.2-mile bypass is completely finished, “it will cut down on the traffic congestion. Once the [drivers of] semis know they can bypass all the lights on U.S. 41, they definitely will bypass all that traffic if they don’t have to go into Terre Haute.”

Daisha Whitehead, who drives to First Financial Bank’s industrial park branch for her job as operations coordinator, appreciates not having the bumper-to-bumper commute that travelers often encounter through the southside commercial district along U.S. 41.

“My blood pressure, I am sure, is much lower, as I don’t have as much traffic to deal with,” Whitehead said. “I have a nice enjoyable drive to work and can decompress on the way home, as nobody is on the bypass when I go home.”

What Wilkes and Whitehead express is exactly what the original planners of Indiana 641 had in mind — to make traveling the south-side U.S. 41 corridor less of a chore by redirecting some of the traffic onto a bypass that links to I-70 on the city’s east side.

Merv J. Nolot, retired executive director of the West Central Indiana Economic Development District, said he’s confident the bypass will accomplish its goal.

As one of the original planners on the project, Nolot has watched its development closely and believes people are anxious to see it completed.

“I think traffic-wise it will accomplish the original objective, which is to reduce congestion along U.S. 41/Third Street, so that traffic doesn’t have to go through that Terre Haute juggernaut,” Nolot said. “I use 13th Street all the time and occasionally take [641] down to Ivy Tech. I don’t see the heavy traffic yet on the bypass, but it is not complete.”

His only regret is that it’s taken so long to develop. City and county officials unanimously adopted the Indiana 641 plan in the summer of 1990.

“When I hear 2016 as the completion date, I just think, ‘my god’,” Nolot said. “The biggest disappointment to me is the time frames kept getting pushed back for various reasons, most of them financial. But when you have changes in the state and city administrations, there are more delays. And, of course, all the environmental work.”

Bridge building

Phase 3 construction of Indiana 641 will start northeast of Feree Road and continue to east of Moyer Road, said Debbie Calder, spokeswoman for INDOT’s Crawfordsville district. Walsh Construction Co. of Crown Point was awarded the contract with a bid of $25,298,936.

The plan calls for the contractor to build embankments and begin construction of five bridges, including initial work at the Riley Road-Tucker Street interchange, Calder said.

The bridges will span Little Honey Creek and its tributaries; the work also will include a bridge for Indiana 46 that will cross over the bypass. Work this year also involves early preparation for the construction of two roundabouts on-ramp approaches to a new Indiana 46 bridge.

A construction contract for Phase 4, pending a review, has been conditionally awarded to Beaty Construction Inc. of Boggstown for $46.8 million, Calder said. Phase 4 will start east of Moyer Road and continue to the I-70 interchange.

“Once officially awarded, it is anticipated that work this year will include the Interstate 70 and Indiana 641 interchange ramp construction and building the local service road along the east side of [Indiana] 46, which services the homes along that stretch, the KOA Campground and our INDOT Terre Haute subdistrict,” Calder said.

Two lanes of traffic in each direction will be maintained at all times on I-70 and Indiana 46, she said, as well as access to all businesses and residences.

The Terre Haute Sanitary District will also be working to relocate a forced sewer main. “We have a forced main sewer line in the 641/46 right-of-way, so we are moving it east from Moyer Road to I-70. We are building a new [sewer] lift station, a pump house, at [Indiana] 46 and Moyer Road,” said City Engineer Chuck Ennis. The sanitary district will be reimbursed from INDOT for the $1.02 million project.

Starts and stops

The bypass has been a protracted undertaking. A contract was first awarded in 2003, and work began in June of that year. The road project, however, was soon mired in a dispute over missed deadlines on the part of Illinois contractor Sierra Bravo, whose officials cited heavy rains and problems with fill as causing the delays. INDOT terminated the contract in November 2005.

The bypass completion date has changed several times as well, most recently being moved from the fall of this year to fall 2016. The latest holdup, Calder said, involves the obtaining of federal permits and approval of environmental mitigation plans, including replanting trees to provide future roosting sites for the Indiana bat, an endangered species.

“INDOT worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and [Indiana Department of Environmental Management] to acquire the proper waterway permits and receive approval of our mitigation sites,” Calder said. INDOT received the permits on Oct. 29 of last year, allowing contractors to enter waterways under federal jurisdiction to build the new section of Indiana 641.

INDOT will seek bids in May and July for those environmental projects for wetlands, streams and bats, Calder said.

The bypass, when completed, will extend a limited-access highway from near Ivy Tech Community College to I-70. The project’s total cost remains at $150 million, Calder said, and is being funded through the state’s Major Moves highway plan.

A popular route

Harvey Church, a draftsman for Wabash Valley Packaging in the industrial park, has been using the bypass since the first phase was opened in 2010. He said it takes him only 10 minutes to get to work from his home.

“Without it,” he said, “I would have to take Springhill to Seventh Street to Third Street from my home.” And that would add a significant amount of time to his commute.

Once complete, Church said the highway will also make it much easier for him to access I-70. But for now, he’s happy with what he’s got.

“It’s wonderful, the best thing ever,” he said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.

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