Leaders fret over delays on roundabout project

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Construction was supposed to be finished by now on the roundabout at County Roads 300S and 500W. Local officials are no longer certain when the work will begin. (Kristy Deer | Daily Reporter)

NEW PALESTINE — The bright orange construction sign on County Road 500W states the road will be closed on or any time after Monday, Aug. 2.

That’s the date construction of the first roundabout in the southern part of the county — at the intersection of County Roads 500W and 300S — was to be completed. Instead, the main part of the project has yet to begin, although the sign indicates final construction of the traffic circle is imminent.

“It’s just difficult to say what’s going to happen and when actual construction will get started,” New Palestine town manager Jim Robinson said.

The project schedule originally called for construction to begin in early May with relocation of utility lines; the 60-day closure would begin shortly after. Delays on the $1.14 million project happened almost immediately after local officials announced the roundabout would be finished before the start of the 2021 school year, which began last week.

Town officials have been frustrated with the lack of work being done by AT&T, which has not finished relocating its infrastructure so construction on the roundabout can begin. Town leaders say they wouldn’t be surprised if the road closure didn’t happen until late August, meaning the project may not be done until late October or early November.

AT&T is the only entity that hasn’t finished its work, council member Angie Fahrnow said.

She’s written emails to AT&T officials as recently as last week. The messages bounced back with notes saying representatives were out of the office and wouldn’t be able to reply for several days.

“We’ve made calls, written letters, tried everything we can to get them to get their part of the job done,” Fahrnow said.

Now, Robinson said, he’s concerned the main contractor, Rieth-Riley Construction Co., may run into trouble because it has other projects slated for the new time frame, which could push the project back several months.

Robinson noted the work needing to be completed by AT&T is associated with labor and not supplies, which has caused delays in many construction projects statewide.

“That does make it more frustrating when all they need to do is get some workers out there,” Robinson said.

Council president Bill Niemier noted town officials held a planning meeting months ago and officials from AT&T were the only ones who didn’t attend.

“All of this delay could have been avoided,” Niemier said. “It’s all so very disappointing because there is a domino effect with this as their delay, delays everything.”

The intersection has a history of being a dangerous spot, with crash reports showing an average of as many as five collisions there a year, including one that led to the death of a 15-year old Greenfield teenager in 2015.

Town and county officials were thrilled when plans to build the roundabout, which had been in the works for several years, became reality. The Indiana Department of Transportation agreed to fund 80% of the project, with the county and New Palestine paying for the rest.

Now, leaders are frustrated because of the delay. They also continue to worry about the safety of the intersection.

“We want this project to get done as soon as possible for the safety of everyone,” Fahrnow said.

Meanwhile, town officials have ordered sod and a flag pole for the roundabout. They also have plans to ask art students at New Palestine High School if they’d like to create some type of art structure to go in the center of the circle. Just when the finishes touches will be added remains to be seen.

Robinson joked that at this point, he’d be thrilled if the roundabout is finished by winter.

“We want to put a Christmas tree in the middle,” Robinson said with a laugh.