Reprinted with permission from The Republic newspaper, March 6, 2020

Milestone Contractors construction crews are continuing to make progress on the railroad overpass and interchange project on Columbus’ west side that will allow motorists to avoid being stopped by railroad traffic at the intersection of State Road 46 and State Road 11.

Crews from Milestone have been working on the estimated $35 million project that is being jointly funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation, city of Columbus, Bartholomew County, Cummins Inc. and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX railroads.

“We’re on schedule for the most part,” said Nathan Gaskill, project manager at Milestone. “We probably won’t move any dirt this week because of the rain. We worked all weekend, Saturday and Sunday, knowing the weather would be unfavorable with rain.”

“Due to the weather we’ve had, I consider us to be on schedule to meet our completion date,” he said.

Over the past month, workers have been laying groundwork for concrete walls that will be used to build a slope that will form the overpass over State Road 11, Gaskill said.

On State Road 11, just south of the interchange, workers have been installing steel beams near State Road 11 south of the interchange that will form the footers that the bridge will sit on, Gaskill said. The beams are driven 60 feet into the ground until they hit bedrock.

Additionally, tree clearing has been completed and utility relocations are nearly complete, with some minor tasks left to finish, said Natalie Garrett, INDOT spokeswoman.

Construction crews also have started working on some of the new drainage structures for the project and, to date, workers have brought approximately 175,000 cubic yards of fill from off-site and moved around 22,000 cubic yards of on-site material, Garrett said.

“The project is still progressing on schedule as the contractor has been working through the winter months as the weather has allowed,” Garrett said. “The milder winter has been helpful, especially due to the project’s aggressive schedule and tight deadlines.”

Over the next few weeks, construction crews will continue doing bridge work and importing material to build fills, Gaskill said.

Currently, the project is in the first of three phases. The first phase should be complete by the end of spring this year, according to INDOT. Traffic interruptions are expected to be “minimal” during this phase, Garrett said.

The second phase, which is expected to start in early summer and be completed by late fall, will result in temporary road and lane closures on State Road 11 and State Road 46.

In early summer, construction crews are expected to work on water mains, drainage structures and pavement on State Road 11, which is tentatively scheduled to be closed to all traffic for 30 days in June, Garrett said. Traffic on State Road 11 will be rerouted on to I-65 during that time.

In the fall, eastbound State Road 46 will be reduced to one lane for around 50 days to “allow construction of various tie-in points between the existing roadway and new roadway,” Garrett said.

During the the third phase of the project, which is projected to start in fall 2020, westbound State Road 46 will be reduced to one lane for about two months, according to INDOT.

The new alignment of State Road 46 is expected to be open to traffic by the end of the year, with some additional work, including seeding and sodding through spring and early summer 2021, Garrett said.

The contract completion date is June 2021.

The overpass project was developed in response to a projected increase in railroad traffic on the Louisville & Indiana Railroad tracks. INDOT has agreed to pick up half of the total cost, while the city, along with other partners, pick up the half of the tab.

The railroad has leased its tracks running through Columbus to CSX, which is expected to result in an increase in train traffic, train speed and delays at intersections involving rail crossings through the city, with the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection expected to have the most delayed local traffic.

The city has partnered with Cummins, Bartholomew County and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX Railroads to defray around half of the local funding requirements in the interlocal agreement, city officials said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held in November.

Approximately 31,200 tons of new asphalt and 4,600 tons of recycled asphalt will be used for the project, and about 460,000 cubic yards of dirt will be poured at the site — equaling around 50,000 truck loads, said Mark Thompson, vice president of Milestone Contractors, in a previous interview.

Currently, 40,000 motorists cross the railroad tracks at this intersection daily. To put it in perspective, an estimated 45,000 people live in Columbus, and 80,000 individuals live in Bartholomew County.

“I would ask that the traveling public still watch their speed in the construction zone and watch for trucks entering and exiting the job site as its very congested and will continue to be for most of the summer,” Gaskill said.

See our Photo Gallery page for updated overhead photos, courtesy of Milestone Construction