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Photo: Stan Jastrzebski
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Photo: Stan Jastrzebski
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By the end of the year, a long-awaited highway bypass in Kokomo will be open and one around North Vernon will be half-finished. But as communities around the state get new roads to alleviate traffic jams, the city of Greencastle is left to wait and wonder. The city has heard about a possible US 231 bypass since the 1980s and even showcased proposed maps just after the turn of the century. But traffic on the courthouse square remains unchanged.
A Tight Turn
It’s 9 a.m. on a Friday morning on Greencastle’s courthouse square and trucks struggle to navigate a 90-degree turn on US 231. It’s one of two difficult turns less than a mile from one another on the highway – and one Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray says frightens her as a driver.
“I avoid this corner now,” Murray says. “I was sitting up here and I wasn’t at the stop bar and these over extended…it was wide load and it was a longer load than normal and he couldn’t…I had to back up to that crosswalk for him to get around the corner.”
No Longer a Mapmaker
Murray would like the Indiana Department of Transportation to help fund a re-routing of the road around downtown, so trucks don’t need to swing into oncoming lanes to make the turn. Former Putnam County Economic Development Council member Dave Bohmer tried to start that planning process in 2000 and 2001.
“[I] Flew over and even drew a map of where you could do a bypass,” Bohmer says. “Unfortunately, that got circulated and got a lot of farmers mad. So I decided I was out of the map-making business at that point.”
Similarities to North Vernon
About 100 miles to the southeast, North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell got to the next stage – but not until he heard complaints from his urban constituents.
“A big part of my opposition was ‘We’re gonna kill North Vernon’. Sometimes it’s hard to kill something that almost resembles death anyway,” he says.
Campbell’s constituents were worried that bypasses cut through farmland and cut downtown business off from traffic. Still other business owners think the trucks drive away customers.
The Military Helps Win INDOT Over
But Campbell had an ace up his sleeve – a flying ace, of sorts. He knew the military wanted to expand its use of his city’s airport. Campbell believes a promise to be able to service large military planes by expanding the airport’s runway – and a tech park anchored by a 100-acre Lowe’s hardware distribution site — helped get both the road project and those planes off the ground.
But that was five years ago, during the Mitch Daniels administration, when the state still had some of the $3.8 billion it got from leasing the Indiana Toll Road. Now, the priorities are different.
Bypasses Not Seen As ‘Realistic’
“Our view is: first, take care of what you have, second finish what you’ve started and third plan for the future,” says INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield, who adds Greencastle’s bypass maps existed at a time when projects were talked about, even if they weren’t very realistic. “There was a time when there were a number of projects being discussed and developed without any realistic expectation as to the way to fund them. And I think some of these bypass projects would fall into that category.”
Back in Greencastle, Bohmer and Murray are watching the trucks make the tight turn around the courthouse. And it doesn’t take long before an 18-wheeler swings wide and into the path of an oncoming SUV, causing both to gasp and causing the driver of the SUV to veer from the turn lane and out of the path of the truck.
“Tthat guy was coming up and coming into the left lane and he realized it could have ruined his day if he hadn’t stayed to the right,” Bohmer muses.
Not Enough Accidents?
Another accident avoided. And, in fact, the Greencastle police department could only locate records for six accidents at this corner since 2010 – only two of which specifically mention semis.
Campbell’s bypass is slated for completion in 2014. He thinks if Murray can land a big industrial site which creates a few hundred jobs, that could help her prospects…
“I mean I know what they did for a thousand employees up at Greensburg and Honda – rebuilt the interstate exits and getting their own highway in and all that. I think what she has to do is become possibly more aggressive on the economic development side of it,” Campbell says.
But for now, the brakes have been put on Greencastle’s plans. That’s left politicians and business owners much like the curb of the sidewalk that trucks have to climb over to make their turn – low.