Heartland Highway Heads Toward Completion in Ind.

Thu May 07, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely




Ten years after former Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon opened the first 8 mi. section of the Hoosier Heartland Highway in Logansport, construction of the final 35-mi. section (dubbed the State Road 25 project) is about to get under way, earlier than originally predicted. When the final segment of U.S. Route 24 in Ohio is completed, central Indiana will have direct access to Toledo.

The Hoosier Heartland Highway between Logansport and Fort Wayne (the section known as the Fort-to-Port corridor) in north-central Indiana was opened late in 2000. Stretching 99 mi., this section is part of the transportation corridor that, when completed, will extend 200 mi. from Lafayette, Ind., to Toledo, Ohio. The corridor will link Interstates 65 and 69 via a multi-lane highway, providing safer, faster travel through seven Indiana counties and four in northwest Ohio.

Heartland Help

Supporting Indiana’s claim as the “crossroads of America,” the north central part of the state through which the Hoosier Heartland Corridor passes plays an important role in its economy. Once served by the Wabash Canal system and later by railroads, towns such as Logansport, Wabash, Huntington and Peru now rely on two-lane highways and country roads to connect with each other and the rest of the country.

But with the economic resurgence occurring in the area, exemplified by the addition of the General Motors Corporation truck plant in Fort Wayne and the Subaru/Isuzu of America plant in Lafayette, as well as the resultant growth of smaller businesses and related industries, those roads are no longer sufficient.

In 1987, the Indiana General Assembly directed the Indiana Department of Transportation to perform a feasibility study for a multi-lane highway between Lafayette and Fort Wayne, following SR 25 from Lafayette to Logansport and U.S. 24 from Logansport to Fort Wayne, a route now known as the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor. A few years later, the corridor was listed as one of 20 federally recognized high-priority corridors in the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. Congress also included it in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) list of high priority projects, authorizing funding from 1998 to 2003.

INDOT’s long-range plan identified SR 25 as a Statewide Mobility Corridor. In its study, “The State Road 25 Hoosier Heartland Corridor Study from Lafayette to Logansport,” INDOT identified several possible corridors and provided an overview of potential environmental impacts of each alignment. Preliminary design studies by Qk4 (formerly Presnell Associates of Indiana Inc.) were included within the study, focusing on three areas on which INDOT based its decisions: environmental impact, engineering feasibility and public input.

Flex Scheduling

The final section of the Heartland Highway/SR 25 project is just beginning. Its projected start date has fluctuated. A 2006 schedule slated work to start in 2011 and end in 2016, but that was accelerated first to 2010 and then to 2008. Former INDOT spokesperson Andy Dietrich said the project team worked hard to get the final leg started, in accordance with Governor Mitch Daniels’ wishes.

“We’re going to break our necks to make this happen,” the Governor stated to reporters. “But there isn’t anything easy about this and to move at record-breaking speed will require not just hard work and cooperation, but the absence of bad breaks along the way. We are completely committed to making the Hoosier Heartland happen as fast as humanly possible.”

As a part of Indiana’s Major Moves transportation program funding a decade of highway projects, the corridor is always first or second on the Mayor’s list, according to Dietrich.

“It’s very important to him.”

It’s important to other lawmakers as well. Congressman Steve Buyer is eager for a safer new highway between Lafayette and Delphi. He told reporters, “Those of us who travel this segment, which is currently a narrow two-lane road, know the dangerous curves and hills cause great concern.”

Senator Brandt Hershman, the second author of the Major Moves initiative, pointed to SR 25’s history of safety issues. Police reports record 213 accidents along the rural road from Lafayette to Logansport between 2001 and 2005, with 76 percent of them occurring between Lafayette and Delphi.

Making the trip safer has been a major concern for all. Aimee Kindred, spokesperson for INDOT, said the curvy, hilly highway is dangerous and is one of the principle reasons behind the project.

“Several fatal crashes have occurred in Tippecanoe County.”

Multi-Lane Benefits

Safer travel is only one of the benefits of this project. The four-lane divided highway will reduce congestion and improve the efficiency and capacity of transportation by facilitating traffic movement. It also will enhance regional and local transportation by improving and completing the transportation system between Fort Wayne and Lafayette.

The final segment of the corridor is located in Tippecanoe, Carroll and Cass counties, from just east of the SR 25/I-65 interchange in Lafayette to US 24 at Logansport 35.3 mi. (56.8 km) away. Impacting Lafayette, Delphi and Logansport, it will bypass SR 25 south and east of Delphi, while providing a direct connection to both I-65, the major north-south interstate in Indiana, and the recently improved US 24 portion of the Hoosier Heartland Highway Corridor. Considered a critical link in a major commercial corridor linking the three cities, it will benefit farmers and businesses, as well as regional traffic.

SR 25 was constructed in 1931. Although, as Kindred explained, it is in good shape — except around Delphi, where it is beginning to deteriorate — the two-lane road does not facilitate commercial mobility. Nor does it meet current design standards. It features only minimal substandard earth shoulders along most of its 35-mi. length and the asphalt driving lanes are only 12 ft. (3.6 m) wide.

Roadside slope is another deficiency. Its infamous curves and hills limit sight distances and contribute to accidents, particularly between Lafayette and Delphi, where the road parallels the Wabash River valley. Heavy vehicles, representing 15 to 20 percent of traffic, are less capable of negotiating road conditions and add to congestion along the 55-mph roadway.

One of the most significant factors affecting safe, efficient operation of the highway, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, is access control. The Norfolk Southern Railroad between Delphi and Logansport where it parallels SR 25 forms a barrier to traffic. There are three at-grade railroad crossings and 81 at-grade public street intersections, as well as more than 140 private entrances. Traffic accident data indicates that uncontrolled intersections such as these contribute to accidents.

As Kindred explained, the reason for the new roadway is not based on traffic numbers, but on the need for improved commercial mobility to Toledo. When completed, it will be a four-lane divided highway with limited access and a grass median.

Groundbreaking Highway

Groundbreaking marking the start of construction on the $450 million project was held last fall, more than a year earlier than originally planned. Completion is now scheduled for 2013. The project was designed in four segments, each with its own consulting firm. Work will begin on the west end at I-65. Kindred explained that the project has been split into 19 contracts, four of which have been let to bid. Chicago-based Walsh Construction Co. has the first contract.

Breaking up the project into different contract has had some benefits, but also caused some issues. Because the roadway is a new alignment, it required right-of-way acquisition.

“We acquired 300 parcels,” Kindred revealed.

Acquisition was conducted on a step-by-step basis, per contract, with incentives offered.

There are “always” utilities to be relocated, Kindred said, but a bigger challenge on this project involved permitting, made more difficult because of the separate contracts.

“We’re working with two agencies on permits: the Army Corp of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. We tried to get it broken into separate contracts, but they want one.”

Environmental issues also threatened to delay the project.

“There’s a big study that has to be done on any project,” Kindred explained. For this one, the study was “very detailed and took years to complete.”

It was concluded in 2002, she reported.

While the environmental impact study has been completed, the roadway design has not. Design consultants continue to finesse it as INDOT’s project team continues working on permits and other details.

Although the contracts do not include incentives to finish the work ahead of schedule, everyone involved is eager to see the project completed as quickly as possible.

“Hoosiers have been waiting a long time for the Corridor,” Hershman is reported as saying, “and the Major Moves project has made this a reality. Moving construction [up] is great news for the safety and economic development in north central Indiana.” CEG