City gets overpass funds

 Mayor Scott Long accepts a ceremonial check from Gov. Eric Holcomb while Street Superintendent Scott Richardson (left) and City Council President Eric Schoening, along with other state officials, look on. Photo provided. 

By Joseph Slacian

The City of Wabash will receive $8,560,000 in funding from the Indiana Department of Transportation, Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials announced Thursday, Dec. 13, during a ceremony in Gary.

The money, from the Local Trax Rail Overpass program, will be used for an overpass over the Norfolk Southern Railroad crossing. The overall project is expected to cost $10,700,000.

Mayor Scott Long, City Council President Eric Schoening and City Street Superintendent Scott Richardson were among those present at the award ceremony.

“Initially it was a sense of relief,” Long told The Paper of Wabash County in an interview Friday morning, Dec. 14. “We submitted it once and we didn’t get selected.

“I think the thing was last year in the call for projects, there was $80 million statewide available in that call. We would have been asking for 10 percent of the state’s total money. I kind of figured we wouldn’t get selected in that one. But they continually told us this is a fantastic application and we want you to keep applying.”

State officials told Long that funding may come available again in 2018, which it did through the Local Trax program.
Preliminary plans call for the overpass to be located along East Street. However, Long noted, those plans are far from final.
“Now it becomes an INDOT project,” he explained. “INDOT managed. INDOT funded, all except our 20 percent of the right-of-way construction costs. INDOT picks up 100 percent of the design and engineering.”

American Structurepoint did the city’s initial design and engineering study on which crossing to select.

“What made the most sense? What made the least amount of impact overall? They selected East Street,” Long said. “It’s my understanding there’s a different engineering firm that has been assigned to the project by INDOT. … I still think East Street is the best crossing due to the limited impact.”

Many things were taken into consideration before choosing that street, he noted.

“The thing that people don’t think about that you need to take into consideration is all the underground utilities,” Long said. “If you have to start moving sewer lines and water lines, whatever gas … that just drives the costs up. What’s it do to the rest of, say in our case, the sewer system? Do we have to do work somewhere else because we have to do this?
“Obviously, if another intersection west of there is chosen, we’re going to have to start shutting some streets down that parallel the tracks. We just don’t have a choice.”

The mayor said the city will work with the engineers on any streets leading to the crossing, be it East Street or another location.

“The obvious choice, without anybody thinking about it, is all the traffic’s on Wabash and Cass streets,” he continued. “So, to (the public), that makes sense. But when you start thinking about shutting Hill Street and Sinclair Street down on either side of the rail, then who do you impact? You impact the Courthouse. You impact the sheriff’s department. You impact churches, libraries, schools.

“So that all has to be weighed into it. That’s the thing.”

There is one important driving point behind the project, the mayor said, and that is safety.

“It’s not about convenience,” he said. “It’s about safety, in my mind. For our police, fire, EMS, volunteer fire departments. It doesn’t only impact the citizens of Wabash. It impacts the citizens of the county and the state that are coming through our community.”

Should the overpass be located on East Street, about 16 homes would be impacted – 14 north of Hill Street and two south of Hill Street, because the intersection needs to be widened out. Long said he understands the concerns of those residents.
However, those who own property along the route will work with the state on the matter.

“As far as I know, from what I’ve been told, is they will be very compensated for their property,” the mayor said. “That’s another thing that’s out of my hands.”

INDOT has a process, he said, which mirrors the federal process. A minimum of two appraisals will be obtained, and those are then averaged with an additional percentage above it for the property. He also believes relocation expenses also will be paid.

“I’m going to encourage INDOT to come in and hold several public hearings like we did on Wabash Street, so that the residents not only on East Street but in the surrounding area who are expecting an increase in traffic (can hear plans firsthand).”

Long said he believes the only time the area will see an increase in traffic is when the track is blocked.

“People are creatures of habit,” he said. “They’re going to continue to use the crossings they’ve used for years. But now when they approach the crossing and see a train stopped, they don’t have to go to City Park and congest that area, there’s going to be a two-lane bridge over the railroad crossing for them to get around.”

While he doesn’t expect semi-tractors and trailers to use the overpass, Long said they must be considered during the planning stages. That is the reason for needing to widen the intersection at Hill and East streets.

“I think what you’re going to see, because this won’t be a state route and it will still be a local street, that’s not going to show up on their GPS,” he said. “Their GPS is still going to take them on Sate Road 15 and 13.

“Say we have a derailment like we had recently, and we can have EMA or police officers at the crossing. If we get a backlog of semis at the crossing and we need to route them that way, then we can put the proper safety personnel in place to make sure we can do that safely. I don’t think they’ll go that way unless directed.

“Now, the locals are going to know it’s there. I think that’s who’s going to predominantly use it.”

Long doesn’t foresee any work on the matter beginning before the first of the year. He expects the first action to be an initial meeting with the new engineering firm in which he will share the information from the American Structurepoint the city already has received.

Work on the entire project may take up to five years.

“It may not take as long depending on if they can use the preliminary design that Structurepoint did and kind of mirror it,”

Long said, “it should be pretty easy for them. These firms work together on things all the time.

“By doing that feasibility study, maybe we can get it done quicker than typically it would take.”

Of the project’s estimated $10.7 million, the city would have to provide about $2.2 million under terms of the grant. Of that, Norfolk Southern will pay a portion. The city’s portion will come from a variety of funds, Long said.

“I’ve got a healthy balance in the Rainy Day Fund,” he said. “I’ve got an extremely healthy balance in our Health Savings Fund that we pay our self-insurance fund. Stormwater funds. It can be a mix of money.

“I didn’t go into this without discussing this with my clerk-treasurer, saying ‘Where can we pull these funds from?’”
Reaction to the news on social media has been mixed.

“To me that’s frustrating,” he said. “This is something that Mayor Bob McCallen wanted to get accomplished. It didn’t get done for whatever reason. … He knew it was important.

“I think Arvin Copeland knew it was important, especially being a former fire chief. Bob Vanlandingham knew it was important, being a former school administrator.”

Long feels the city is fortunate to have received the grant.

“I feel fortunate to be one of 12 communities (to receive funding),” he said. “There’s 122 cities in the state, 92 counties, I don’t know how many towns. To be one of the communities selected, it’s an accomplishment, I think.
“It just goes to show me that this project was just as important when they looked at it as it was to the people of our community.”

Posted on 2018 Dec 18