Complexities, questions surround highway project

COLUMBIA CITY — When it comes to a major road renovation in Columbia City known as the State Route 205 Project, Columbia City officials say there are no easy answers because there aren’t any answers of any kind at the moment.“You just don’t know the complexities,” said Jeff Walker, Columbia City’s Outside Operations Officer.Mayor Jim Fleck said the process, which began more than seven years ago with complaints by residents of poor visibility entering and leaving Morsches Park, is multi-faceted.“It’s kind of like learning to play the game of basketball during the game,” he said.At issue — the project will be nearly 90 percent funded federally. With this money comes bureaucracy in the form of state and local agencies overseeing the project.Walker said Friday at the regular meeting of the Board of Works and Safety that the engineering firm studying the project (American Structure Point) is about two-thirds finished. With each step, oversight through the Indiana Department of Transportation must occur.The project includes removing a vision-restricting hill that makes turning into and exiting the park tenuous.The intersection of the state highway and Towerview Dr. will be squared off to line up with the road that feeds Morsches Park.“We’re just basically shaving the hill, bringing it down,” said Fleck.The need for the project, according to Fleck, was compounded with the construction of the new hospital (Parkview Whitley Hospital) and the library, which has been relocated along the state road for several years.Until engineering studies are completed, the exact cost of the project remains a mystery, said Fleck and Walker.In the meantime, city officials are busy obtaining easements from land owners along the route.Fleck said state and federal hoops must be jumped through in order to ensure the continued progress of the project.“Part of the concern that we’ve had is that we follow the state requirements,” he said.Last year the hospital entered into an agreement with Columbia City to share the city’s portion of the project, which still remains an unknown quantity.“You can’t do that (announce the project’s price tag) until you receive the bids.In addition to lessening the hill and squaring off the intersection leading into the park, a frontage road will also be constructed to tie the park to Little Turtle Woods, according to Fleck.“Without this project, we wouldn’t be able to develop Little Turtle Woods,” Fleck said.