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Work to start on new roundabout

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CR 600W will stay open throughout the duration of the roundabout construction, but CR 300N will be closed at various times. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
CR 600W will stay open throughout the duration of the roundabout construction, but CR 300N will be closed at various times. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

MT. COMFORT — Ground will be broken soon on the multilane roundabout at Mt. Comfort Road and CR 300N, and local officials say they’re glad the cost of construction will be lower than expected.

The roundabout will cost $2.278 million, and county commissioners say given the controversy on the project over the past four years, it will be good to see it finally built.

“I’m pleased this is the first item that’s come in under budget (for the roundabout). We’re real pleased about that,” said Commissioner Brad Armstrong.

The bid, from Milestone Contractors, came in the lowest among seven Wednesday evening at a meeting to consider bids. Gary Pool, Hancock County highway engineer, said he was finalizing paperwork Thursday to award the project to Milestone, and a timetable for construction will be discussed soon.

County officials were expecting the bid to be about $2.5 million, based on an engineer’s estimate. Most of the project will be funded with a federal grant; the county is bracing to spend roughly $540,000 on construction costs.

Pool expects the western leg of the project to be complete in the next couple of months. Because Mt. Comfort Elementary School is nearby, officials had wanted to get most of the work done this summer; but it will probably be completed after school reopens in late July.

“Originally they were planning on doing it during school vacation, but with the shortened school year, it will impact it a little bit,” Pool said.

CR 600W will remain open throughout the duration of the project, Pool said, but CR 300N will be closed at various times. School and public safety officials will be made aware of the construction schedule to know the best routes around the work, Pool said.

Another factor that could come into play is the possibility of an entirely new road in the northeast quadrant of the intersection. County officials have been negotiating with members of Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church about building a small access road stemming north from CR 300N to the church.

Details of the road and how it would be funded have not been finalized yet, but Armstrong said it would aid traffic flow to the church not only during construction, but afterward.

“It would benefit the church greatly if we can get that in,” he said. “It would benefit us with construction, and hopefully it will allow for retail development along that area.”

Construction of the roundabout has been a touchy issue for years, as members of the public and elected officials alike have questioned whether it’s worth the expense. The roundabout – the size just shy of a football field – has been in limbo for the last four years as county officials have run into roadblocks purchasing land for the project.

The roundabout is one step of a much larger plan to widen CR 600N all the way to McCordsville. A 2009 traffic study of the area suggested a roundabout at CR 300N to accommodate future increased traffic flow from growth in McCordsville and Hamilton County. Proponents say it will help with traffic and prepare the corridor for more economic development.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – probably as long as I’ve been a commissioner,” Commissioner Tom Stevens said.

The intersection has become the most congested among county-owned roads, Stevens said, and something should be done now to prepare for the future.

“I’ve always been one to believe improving infrastructure needs to be on the leading edge of development,” Stevens said. “This is really a good thing for the county. It’s going to benefit that area. It kind of opens up lead-in for all of the rest of the improvements we have planned for that corridor.”

But landowners, school officials and public safety officials alike raised concerns about the new intersection design in public meetings four years ago. In 2011, Armstrong said it should be redesigned as a traditional intersection, but he was in the minority; Commissioner Derek Towle joined Stevens in voting in favor of the project because, he said, a traffic circle is better for public safety than a traditional intersection.

The project nearly came to a screeching halt in 2012 when three of the seven county council members griped over the cost of the project, saying local money would be better spent on improving roads throughout the rest of the county.

And then there were lengthy disputes over land. The county paid $1.4 million for six properties around the intersection – nearly $600,000 over budget. A seventh property, the site of the El Nopal Mexican restaurant, was tied up in court two years until the county paid $650,000 last year for right-of-way.

“I guess I’m glad it’s coming to completion so we can move on to other things,” Armstrong said. “It’s been a difficult issue, especially with all of the trouble we had with the right of way; it’s been a difficult project.”

The former El Nopal restaurant will be razed soon to make way for construction, Pool said, and utility lines are being moved now. While Pool is new to the job and hadn’t dealt with the project’s controversy firsthand, he also said it will be exciting to see ground broken at the site.

“I know it’s been a touchy project for a lot of people in the county,” Pool said. “I think a lot of people will just be happy to see this built and in place.”

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