ROADBLOCKS: Mt. Comfort Road reopening delayed yet again

0
2063

The completion of the Mt. Comfort Road improvement project has been delayed yet again, keeping part of a main thoroughfare in the county blocked. It was initially supposed to be done by Christmas before being delayed multiple times. The county is pursuing liquidated damages. The closure is pushing traffic onto County Road 700W, which is falling into disrepair and isn’t slated for repaving until next year. Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY — It was supposed to be done by Christmas. Then, Valentine’s Day. Now, it may be closer to the first day of spring before a stretch of Mt. Comfort Road that’s been closed since last summer reopens.

“It’s painful right now,” said Gary Pool, Hancock County engineer.

Susceptible to that pain are the thousands of motorists driving the county thoroughfare each day whose travels are interrupted by the ongoing closure. Meanwhile, county workers strive to fill potholes on the detour where conditions worsen the longer the roadblock persists.

The Mt. Comfort Road improvement project between County Roads 300N and 400N has been slowed over the past several months by labor and material issues, including part of the project needing to be redone due to not meeting specifications. But Pool says there’s light at the end of the tunnel and a plan to remedy the battered detour in the coming months as well.

Work on reconstructing and widening the span of Mt. Comfort Road started last June. The project costs about $8 million, 80% of which comes from federal funds the state administers and the remainder coming from the county.

The road initially wasn’t supposed to be fully closed, but the project ran into complications with the Indianapolis Regional Airport over securing property on the west side of the road for stormwater drainage purposes. That required large pipes to be installed under the road, demanding its closure.

“The road’s completely finished except for these two big holes where these pipes exist,” Pool said.

Pool said the contractor for the project, Whitestown-based Calumet Civil Contractors, ran into difficulties securing labor and materials in the beginning, particularly steel, which is needed for reinforcement under the concrete slabs above the drainage pipes.

“We were able to get the steel and the laborers, but then we got into bad weather,” Pool said.

Then, in January, Pool discovered the flowable fill material that was put in didn’t meet specifications.

“They put it all in, then they had to remove it all,” he said.

That cost falls on the contractor.

“That doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything, however it does slow us down,” Pool said.

He’s considering liquidated damages against the company, adding it’s not getting paid for a lot of its work in January.

“No amount of complaining or whining about it will make it go faster, but the fines are going to make them go faster,” he said.

The damages could prove to be a helpful negotiating tool in incentivizing a quicker completion, Pool continued.

“Maybe I’ll eat some of it if they get it open sooner,” he added.

Pool said about 20,000 taxpayers drive the road each day.

“I believe that most of them would pay a little extra money to have it open sooner because it’s that pressing,” he said.

Crews are back in action and had nine concrete pours left to do as of last Thursday. With each pour taking about two days, that adds up to about 18 working days.

“I’m already greatly disappointed in the project,” Pool said. “No one takes it more seriously than I do. But I would be really surprised if it was later than mid-March before traffic was back on that road.”

Calumet Civil Contractors deferred comment to the Indiana Department of Transportation, citing that the agency is leading the project. INDOT did not return a request for comment.

The detour for the project is on County Road 700W. It wasn’t expected to have to take on the extra traffic this far into winter, and the recent snow and frigid weather didn’t help its beaten surface.

“I have my employees out there right now patching it pretty much on a continuous basis,” Pool said.

County Road 700W is slated to be repaved this spring after the Mt. Comfort Road project finishes, with the cost covered by developers building large industrial warehouses in the area. The restoration won’t be able to start until asphalt plants reopen, which won’t be until around April, Pool said.

“We’re going to have maybe a month, maybe two months where it’s just going to be tough,” he said. “And trust me, I drive it every night, so I am completely aware. It’s still passable, but it is in difficult condition. Don’t go speeding through there, or you’re going to break your tire.”

A future phase of the Mt. Comfort Road project will extend improvements north, but won’t require a full, extended closure, as an accord was reached with the airport that allows the project to avoid underground stormwater pipes. Pool said any full closures would be a few hours at the most. That portion of the project is estimated at $19 million to $20 million and will add travel lanes and turn lanes between County Road 400N and just north of County Road 500N, along with traffic circles at 400N, Airport Boulevard, the entrance to the new Walmart warehouse and 500N.

“Once it’s all done, everybody will be very happy,” Pool said. “Nobody’s happy right now.”