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April 11, 2012

Heartland homestretch: Work on schedule this spring

CAMDEN — Former Town Council President Pete Wagoner doesn’t want to watch opportunity fly by on the Hoosier Heartland Highway.

“We really didn’t build it to watch cars and trucks go by,” he said to about 150 community leaders. “We’ve got to get jobs created in these rural areas. The highway can do something like that for this community.”

The Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor had its regional spring luncheon Tuesday at Camden Community Center. Wagoner was among the speakers who talked about the highway’s potential impact to Carroll County.

Among the big concerns is how important completing the Ind. 75 Connection Project would be. It would mean connecting a three-mile stretch of road from Ind. 75 to the Hoosier highway, known now as Ind. 25.

“Completing the State Road 75 connection should remain a high priority project,” Wagoner said.

The road qualifies for state funding, but Indiana Department of Transportation officials said the connection work would be ideal for “local federal aid” dollars, according to information handed out at the meeting.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita said the Senate passed a transportation bill before going to recess that, he feels, the House should rebut with its own bill and force a conference between the two.

“What I think we ought to do is get to conference,” Rokita said. “We need to pass our own bill in the House, so our differences can be hammered out.”

He said he supports a longer-term transportation bill than the 18-month proposal from the Senate. Rokita also said the government will need to find new funding sources for projects like road projects and didn’t dismiss increasing the gas tax gradually to match inflation.

“The highway transportation fund is running out of money,” he said. “The revenue does not keep pace with the outlays, and it’s going to run out very soon. The gas tax hasn’t been raised in decades.”

He said he wouldn’t be opposed to deficit spending for future investments like roads.

“As a conservative, I’m OK with that because roads and bridges are an investment in our future, and if my children have to pay for some of them, at least those roads and bridges should be around for them to use,” Rokita said.

That funding would be for future projects, however.

Ground was broken for the $450 million Hoosier Heartland Highway project in October 2008.

The new Ind. 25 will be a 31-mile, four-lane, limited access divided highway. The project is divided into four segments between Lafayette and Logansport. Along that stretch of highway, INDOT's consultants are in varying stages of design and construction.

Contracts for the Logansport area will be offered for bids again in July.

That's when the state will bid new bridge construction over Ind. 29, both northbound and southbound; new interchange construction at Ind. 29 and Burlington Avenue; new road construction and signs, lighting, signals and markings from just east of 115 West to U.S. 24/U.S. 35; and a new bridge over Burlington Avenue, both northbound and southbound lanes.

Jim Earl, project manager for INDOT, also attended Tuesday’s meeting. He said construction is going on with 23 of the 25 contracts and the nicer weather “hasn’t necessarily helped, but it hasn’t hurt us either.”

“The project is still going as planned,” Earl said. “We only have one contract left to bid, and that bidding is in July. Typically during the winter months we like to have a good freeze. It actually helps our underground work because it’s hard to work in the muck.”

Earl said the weather predictions show a pretty mild spring and construction should be able to “stay on track.”

Tom Weatherwax, chairman of the corridor group, has worked on the project for 28 years. He said now is the time to prepare to reap the rewards of the construction.

“Besides the public safety, our vision and goal was for economic development and jobs by creating this regional and international highway for the future,” he said. “It is still our goal.

“While we cannot take anything for granted until the last contracts are let for building the highway, we believe we need to work together for regional economic development just like we did and have to reach this goal on building the highway.”

Wagoner said the area is excited to be involved with the highway and hopes it can find a resolution to connecting Ind. 75.

“It’s nice that it’ll be there so we can get on and go some place, but more importantly is we got to find ways to take advantage of having that road out there to attract different industry and businesses to locate in our area,” he said. “Having secondary roads like Hwy. 75 connected to it is very important. Otherwise, we’re just going to be watching the trucks and the cars go by.”

• Jason M. Rodriguez is news editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or jason.rodriguez@pharostribune.com.

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