The city of Washington and the Indiana Department of Transportation have struck a deal that will lead to both the long-needed repair of National Highway, also known as Business 50, through town and the eventual takeover of the road by the city. The city council Monday night agreed to a resolution calling for the city and state to move toward finalizing a deal.
"This has been a long process," said Washington Mayor Joe Wellman. "There is a lot of work yet to get done. We now have a framework we can operate under and go back to INDOT and put some real ink on an agreement with them."
The deal is one Wellman has been pushing for over the last couple of years. Business 50 through Washington has been a big headache since 1989 when the state offered to give it to then-Mayor Tom Baumert who refused to accept it.
"Every mayor since then has told the state to fix it or give us money," said Wellman. "That is where we are today. This council said it is time to do something. This is still a major road in the community even though the state doesn't think so. That's how we got today."
The base agreement calls for a $24.5 million project that has all utility lines being upgraded and replaced and the road improved down to the base and new pavement. The city will be paying $10 million of that cost with $3 million coming from the water department to upgrade those lines, $2 million to upgrade the sewer lines, $2 million for electrical lines and $2 million coming from the electrical department for new lines there. In addition, the city will use almost $3 million from the Tax Increment Finance funds out of redevelopment districts.
The state, between 2019 and 2023, would give the city around $14.7 million for the reconstruction and other improvements plus an additional $800,000 over the same period for operational and maintenance costs.
City officials contend the utilities, which were put in place in the 1930s when the road was built, are either in need of replacement or will need replacement soon. To pay for the utilities, the city is discussing rate increases that would raise water $1.24 per month, sewer $1 per month and electrical $2.57 per month.
Those commitments led one councilman to vote against the project.
"That's the state's highway," said councilman Doug Campton. "It's not the city's. It is for the state to take care of, not us. It ties up TIF money for 20 years. It ties up utility rates, and I don't want to even raise those rates and it's going to tie up those rates for 35 years."
Wellman says it appears the project will start on the east side running from the roundabout to State Street. Then, the work will shift to the west end with the road being rebuilt from the city limits to Southeast Third Street. The final part of the work, from State to Third Street is scheduled for 2023 with funding coming from federal highway funds. That promise of federal funding has left council members nervous.
"There are still some things to negotiate, some things the council wants to be included and we will work to get that done," said Wellman."These numbers are the result of what INDOT has told us. INDOT gave us a proposal last November that was not to our satisfaction. We countered. They didn't like that and worked back and forth and this is what we came up with."
The apparent agreement is also one the state is pleased with. "We have worked for a long time with the city on this agreement," said Jason Tiller with the INDOT Office in Vincennes. "We are glad to finally have this plan. We look forward to implementing it."
The Business 50 agreement still has a way to go before it is completed. First, the city and state have to get a full agreement on paper and after that will come to the real work of modernizing an almost 100-year-old highway with plenty of problems and a lot of action for travelers through the community.
"Once we begin construction, it is going to be a big problem," said Wellman. "It is going to disrupt everyone there. We are going to try and minimize that disruption but to get that road fixed right is going to take some time and will make a mess."
Officials are hoping the first of the work can begin next spring.