By Andrea McCann
Some concern was expressed, at a public hearing Thursday night, about relocating the intersection of U.S. 50 and East National Highway.
The hearing was an opportunity for the project to be explained and for the public to give input. Close to 30 people packed the Washington City Council Chambers for the hearing, which was conducted by David Goffinet of Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates. Goffinet explained that all comments will be evaluated and included in the final environmental document for the project.
“As part of the process we have to give opportunity for public comment,” he said as he explained the hearing format. “The comments will help design the project.”
The relocation project would move the U.S. 50/E. National Highway intersection 1,050 feet southwest along U.S. 50. A new section of road would run from the E. National Highway/Industrial Park Road intersection southeast and connect into U.S. 50 at the relocated intersection. A roundabout would be placed at E. National Highway and Industrial Park Road, and approaches and turn lanes installed in the appropriate places. Decorative lighting, to match that on Main Street, would be added.
“There has been a level of design that has taken place,” Goffinet said, explaining that the plans presented Thursday night are not set in stone and can be changed.
To get to the present point, Goffinet said stakeholders met and gave their input. Surveys and traffic studies have been done, and utilities have been identified and contacted. A draft environmental study also was completed to show the impact on both the human and natural environments.
“On January 2nd we got formal approval from INDOT to proceed with the public hearing, so here we are tonight,” Goffinet said.
Mayor Joe Wellman explained the project is a joint endeavor with the city, county and Daviess County Economic Development involved. He said he believes it will improve the entrance to the city.
“In my opinion it’s the first of many improvements to develop that whole corridor and get people off I-69 into city,” he said.
But not everyone agreed, with some people concerned businesses along E. National Highway might be harmed. Harry Hanson and Tom Boyd spoke to the crowd after the project had been explained.
“I want to talk about keeping this as a right-in and right-out,” Hanson said, pointing to the stretch of E. National Highway where several commercial businesses are located north of the current intersection. “We’ve got 200 trucks 2 miles north of there that use this.”
He pointed out that if they’re forced to come out and go through the roundabout it would create traffic problems. He said Olon trucks would “stack up at the docks,” and it would also create problems for a project under construction near there now.
In short, Hanson said he believes the relocation project as it stands would create barriers to development east of the intersection and add to problems north of E. National Highway..
“How’s a roundabout different from right-in and right-out?” Boyd asked. “Why do you want to bring our 200 trucks to a roundabout?”
He said he believes Hoeflings business will be hurt, and that the intersection will be harder to see from I-69 so people might drive on past.
“I think you’re really hurting access to town,” he said.
In explaining the details of the project work, Jeff Whitaker, also of Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates, told the assembled group the purpose for project is to “promote commercial and industrial growth” and improve safety. He said several alternatives had been considered, and he explained those. But ultimately, he said, the one presented was determined to be the best.
“We looked at several different options and we found a roundabout works a lot better than a four-way stop, and it works better than a traffic signal,” Whitaker said. “It’s designed to handle cars and trucks.
“A roundabout is basically a one-way road that takes you in a circle. Roundabouts are always counterclockwise. You can’t make a left turn at a roundabout. People going around the roundabout have the right of way; the others merge. Once you merge, you keep going. Don’t slow down, don’t stop.”
He said maneuvering a roundabout is easy once drivers understand those simple rules.
Cost of the project would be approximately $2,870,000. Construction would be completed in five stages so the whole area isn’t closed during the entire construction.
If all goes as planned, appraising would begin in March or April of 2013. Rick Bennitt of Bernardin Lochmueller said appraisers will make property inspections with the land owners present, and a review appraiser and city officials will go over it. Once all parties are comfortable with the numbers, offers will be extended by INDOT-approved purchasing agents.
“The main thing is federal regulations are right there to make sure it’s appraised according to standards,” Bennitt said.
Final design plans would be completed by September 2013. Project letting would be in January of 2014, and construction would occur between March and September of 2014.
The public comment period ends Feb. 14. Anyone wishing to comment may do so on tape, by filling out a form or emailing Whitaker at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments will be submitted with the hearing process.
“We encourage people to continue making comments even after the comment period,” Goffinet concluded.
Anyone wishing for information on the project may contact the mayor’s office at 254-5575.