Troubled waters

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Ford Road bridge issue is still a stalemate

 

It’s a question that has lingered for more than two and one-half decades in southeastern Boone County: How to improve the convergence of Eagle Creek, Ford Road and 96th Street?

At present, if one travels into the area by going south on Ford Road, he is greeted by, in order: A T-road with poor sightlines on his right, an aging, narrow bridge carrying him over the waterway and an unwieldy, 90-degree left turn.

It is a beautiful area known for its Tunnel of Trees, but lacks functionality. As Zionsville speeds towards growth, a better solution is needed; it appears, though, that a viable answer is a long way off.

“We need a solution, need to start looking past where we’ve had our heels dug in,” said Boone County Councilman Gene Thompson. “Nothing is getting done now.”

Nothing has gotten done in the area for quite some time, but not for lack of trying. As early as the mid-Eighties, tentative plans to modernize 96th Street and Ford Road between Interstates 465 and 865 were on the table.

After those thoughts fell by the wayside, due in part to homeowners’ concerns about the removal of the Tunnel of Trees, attention turned in 2006 to the possible installation of a steel truss bridge, once used in Shelby County.

It is that thought that has been a point of contention ever since.

“It will last for 100 years,” said Marc Applegate, President of the Boone County Commissioners and one of the foremost proponents of the truss bridge. “It fits the area, and we wouldn’t have to take out the Tunnel of Trees. I don’t see any minuses.”

Applegate appears to have more than his share of dissenters when it comes to that opinion. Thompson is one.

“There’s no question the quickest would be the truss bridge,” he said. “My concern is 20 or 25 years from now when Zionsville needs a different transportation plan or the bridge becomes problematic, people are going to look at the County Council and ask why we ever decided to build it – why was money ever approved to be spent on it.”

The bulk of Thompson’s and his Council mates’ – who on July 11 defunded the truss project – concerns stem from its aptitude for the proposed application. In its former life, the 75-year-old bridge was part of Ind. Highway 44 and served roughly 4,000 cars per day.

Today, the 24-foot wide bridge – the same width as the current span – sits unassembled in a State-owned pasture near Greenfield and would carry 8,000 cars a day over Eagle Creek.

“(It would be) a disaster to erect the old truss,” said Dan Clark, a Boone County resident and engineer. “This fact would not change even with minor widening.”

Clark also touched on the fact that the area in question resides in the Traders Point Eagle Creek Rural Historic District, making it extremely hard to remedy the bridge situation should a problem arise.

“That bridge would be a terrible burden on the town and county for all time,” he said. “Once we erect a truss in a historic district, we will be stuck with it forever.”

 

The Zionsville Town Council seems to agree. In February, it voted unanimously to oppose the truss plan, and despite subsequent meetings between Applegate, Council President Tim Haak and Council member Elizabeth Hopper, no compromise could be found.

“Over the summer, we met with Marc Applegate,” Haak said. “We weren’t opposed to the concept of the truss bridge, just opposed to the parameters to which it was going to be built – it’s too narrow. We couldn’t come up with an agreement. We said, ‘Let’s look at building a modern bridge, but give it the aesthetic look of a truss.’ That can be done. Marc and another commissioner were against that, and broke off discussions.”

Applegate is concerned if something isn’t done soon, the chances at the bridge will be lost.

“The state had a contract for so many years, and they don’t want it sitting on their lot,” he said. “At some point, they are going to take it to the scrapyard if nobody wants it. Right now we have no money to do anything, and it is a stalled project. All the reports say the current bridge doesn’t have much life left. I don’t think there’s much danger of it being unsafe, but I expect at some point an engineering firm will say, ‘You’ve got to fix this bridge or we’re going to close it down.’”

And so at this moment, there is no answer. The current bridge needs replacing, at the very least repaving – but the county loses precious INDOT funding if they opt to use and asphalt Band-Aid. The truss bridge is a viable option to some, a joke to others, but still the problem remains, right there over Eagle Creek.

The two sides do, however, agree on one thing.

“I’m not sure where it’s going at this point,” Applegate said.

“We’ve been stuck,” said Thompson.

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