By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — ODON — Daviess County now has the money to carry out a plan to fast-track the completion of a major upgrade on CR 900E, also known as the Odon-Cannelburg Road.
During a ceremony at the Simon J. Graber Building, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced the county will receive an $11.6 million federal grant to compete the project. “There are good reasons to do this project,” said INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff. “It’s been a long time in coming. We now have the money. We have the ability. Let’s get this done.”
County Road 900E is the main thoroughfare through Daviess County Amish country. The project will widen the roadway, add specific lanes for buggies, and additional shoulders. The county has already received close to $11 million to do that work up to CR 800N. The new funding will run the rest of the way to CR 1250N near Odon. “I’m overwhelmed,” said County Commissioner Larry Wilson. “It’s hard to imagine the figures we are talking about, but it is a true joy to receive this award.”
“This is a great day,” added Commissioner Tony Wichman. “This road will benefit the businesses here, but the core of this project is safety. The opportunity to enhance safety is immense.”
Safety was one of the biggest drivers for the funding. In the last 10 years, there have been three traffic fatalities along the roadway. In the last three years, eight accidents involving injuries and 39 property damage crashes have taken place. The narrow road is a regular mix of semis, large trucks, passenger vehicles, and horse and buggies.
“We are committed to make this a safe road, safer than even it is designed to be,” said Wichman. “We are going to form a committee involving the sheriff’s office, county highway department, our legal people, and people who live and do business along this road to come up with some specific local ordinances to make it as safe as possible.”
While safety may be the top priority for the project, economic issues also played a part in the decision. “There are more than 100 businesses in this corridor,” said Wichman. “The handful of large ones do more than $200 million in business each year. When you add in the rest of the small, mom-and-pop businesses $200 million may be just a drop in the bucket.”
“This will be the catalyst for new jobs,” said County Council President Jo Arthur. “In addition, the Odon-Cannelburg Road plays a big part in our tourism. Right now the tourism impact on our county is $41.9 million supporting 920 jobs. The completion of this project will support safer and better access to the tourism in the Amish community and help it grow and develop.”
Daviess County will be putting up $2.2 million for the local matching funds. “When we were looking at all of the projects around the state and Daviess County said they had the local match and were ready to go that helped us decide to go ahead with this project.” said Woodruff.
Even with the money in hand the county is not ready to fire up the bulldozers and begin construction. “Because this is a project involving federal dollars there is a lot involved,” said Daviess County Highway Superintendent Phil Cornelius. “A lot of the environmental work is already done, but there is a lot of engineering, some archaeology. Normally it takes 7 years to carry out a project like this. We expect to start construction on this last segment in late 2016 and have it finished by the end of 2018.”
The work will mean a lot more disruption along the roadway for the next 4 years. Still, businesses see it as positive. “It’s a huge announcement and a great thing,” said Mark Graber, Sales Manager for Graber Post. “It’s going to be hard to put a value on the benefits. It’s going affect the community in a positive way.”
State officials say the road improvements will also help connect the Amish community to U.S. 50 and I-69. “This is an important corridor to Daviess County and the state of Indiana,” added Woodruff. “It’s also important to the Amish community and this is our way to show that we value their friendship and safety.”
“When they announced the amount I did shed a tear,” said Cornelius. “This is one of those things where the community is going to see the fruition of a lot of work. It is a little overwhelming.”
“I can see a glimpse of the end of the rainbow as we move toward the completion of this project,” added Wilson. “We don’t know what we will find there. It may be safety or more economic development. We’ll have to wait and see.”
The grant for CR 900E was part of $86 million in projects awarded around the state. Others in southwestern Indiana included three bridges in Pike County, a connector road in Santa Claus, and a road reconstruction on State Street in Mt. Vernon. The state also announced funding for signage projects in the city of Huntingburg and Knox, Crawford and Sullivan counties. Two trail projects were also awarded. One to Santa Claus and another in Mt. Vernon.