The Washington Times-Herald

February 26, 2013

County: Bridge was potential hazard

By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — A day after a story published in The Indianapolis Star about the I-69 bridge on CR 1200N in Daviess County, county officials said Monday before the bridge was fixed it last spring it was a danger to the general public and needed to be redone.

Commissioners even lifted a bond requirement so that the new bridge could be renovated, but would not say if the bridge overhaul was due to their concerns or the motivation suggested in The Star’s report that INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff swayed the bridge to be redone at a cost of $770,4445.

“My disclaimer is we thought it was unsafe and disavow any knowledge of any other activities by any political officials or INDOT officials in that regard,” Commissioner President Tony Wichman said. “We have no other involvement in the thing that I know of.”

In documents provided to the Times Herald from The Star, it shows a letter from the commissioners to Sam Sarvis, the INDOT chief in charge of I-69, asking the overpass to be redesigned.

“We respectfully recommend to INDOT that this overpass be redesigned and corrected to allow for 45 MPH design speeds, so as to provide flatter and longer slopes, to greatly improve site (sic) distance,” the letter from the county commissioners stated.

The letter was sent in February 2012, months before the bridge was officially opened in May. In the obtained records, the bridge was finished and built to acceptable state standards and to design. On May 4, according to a daily report, Woodruff requested the road sections removed and grades raised because “of concerns by the farmers (Woodruff and Cornelius) who adjoin the new CR 1200N.”

The farmers mentioned in the report are Richard Woodruff, Troy Woodruff’s uncle, and cousin Michael Cornelius.

The report, written by INDOT Bridge Supervisor Tom Brummett, also said Woodruff, Sarvis and INDOT’s I-69 Operations Director Elliott Sturgeon were negotiating a contract with Force Construction to redo the approaches to the bridge for $750,000.

Brummett, in his reports, wrote the bridge were at specified grade and built to design. Sturgeon told Brumm ett the bridge looked like a “picture perfect postcard,” and done exactly as INDOT wanted it, before Woodruff asked for the renovation.

County officials were also involved in a May 7 email. The email was from Daviess County Highway Department Superintendent Phil Cornelius to Sturgeon. In the email, Cornelius said after consulting with Daviess County Commissioner Michael Taylor, the bond for damage around CR 1200N would be forgiven in order for construction to happen.

According to commissioners’ minutes for May, there was no vote on the bond being lifted but Cornelius told commissioners there was work to be done on CR 1200N and the bridge was to be closed.

The subject of the bridges across I-69 have been an issue for local farmers, especially those who have large equipment. Commissioners have heard complaints in meetings from farmers about the narrow shoulders on the overpasses.

Wichman said he went on the bridge when it opened and it was clear there was a sight issue, especially with the steep approaches.

“We approached it 30 miles an hour, 40 miles an hour and 45 miles an hour and felt there wasn’t room to stop in some points when you top that grade,” Wichman said.

Woodruff is under investigation by the state’s Inspector General for not reporting profit from land sales near the now completed interstate from his cousins and uncle, Richard Woodruff.