Bridge construction prolongs State Road 44 detour

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FRANKLIN — Despite central Indiana’s transition into fall and cold weather on the horizon, construction along State Road 44 near the Johnson and Shelby County line is ramping up as others typically begin wrapping up.

A bridge expected to be completed by September is still under construction, and will be for weeks to come.

The bridge which spanned over Sugar Creek has proven to be a major headache for all parties involved.

INDOT announced a general asphalt resurfacing project along State Road 44 back in April, which contained bridge work slated for a 60 day closure. 

Those 60 days have turned into nearly six months of closure after INDOT says they found signs the bridge wasn’t stable enough for simply a resurfacing – it needed to be rebuilt completely. 

“Unfortunately when the contractor got in there and started doing work, they encountered some unexpected wear and tear on the bridge and realized that it needed some more extensive work to be done than was originally planned for,” INDOT Seymour District Public Relations Director Natalie Garrett said. “You don’t want something like, you know, a bridge to collapse or something. Not that that for sure would’ve happened or anything like that… but we want to keep everyone on Indiana’s roadways safe.”

Kenny Bullard lives along the detour route, which will have been in place for the better part of a year upon the bridges completion. 

He argues the detoured trucks and speeding traffic have put his home in danger. 

“The access to Shelbyville has to be through the country roads… it becomes a main thoroughfare for heavy rigs,” Bullard said. “It’s very frustrating. You feel like you’re being robbed by somebody you don’t know. Because they continue to drive through and tear up the property.”

As evidenced by the tread marks in his lawn and damage to his landscaping stones – he’d like the county to fix the problem before it worsens. 

“Thank you for making this my problem… and thank you for not even beginning to come out and talk to me about it,” Bullard said. “As the rainy seasons come on and it gets worse, the ruts and the damage to the yard will only continue to get worse.”

What’s worse, first responders say the detour has not only added semis and increased traffic to the country roads but crucial minutes to their response time for folks living in the eastern reaches of Johnson County. 

“For us to respond there now we have to actually, physically drive into Shelby County which could take us several more minutes obviously to get to the area for calls,” Major Andy Fisher with the Johnson County Sheriffs Department said. “Fortunately we’re kinda used to changing things on a moments notice so we try to deal with it the best way we can and we don’t want people to feel like we’re not going to be coming… we’re coming. We’ve figured out other ways to get there and it may take us a couple more minutes but we will make sure we still fill our obligation to the community and always respond.”

On top of all this, INDOT says their contracted crews are racing the calendar due to restraints caused by the changing seasons, working to wrap the rebuild up before snow flies. 

“A lot of work can’t be done during the winter so we are limited but we’ll hope for good weather throughout the rest of the project so we can get that wrapped up,” Garrett said. “We do we realize that anytime we close a road it is an inconvenience for someone. Some roads more than others. Depending on where the road is located and often it’s travelled.  we’re asking everyone, please be patient, bear with us, we’ll get the road back open as soon as we can.”

INDOT says the unfortunate discovery at the bridge, which necessitated a full rebuild doesn’t paint a picture of failing bridge and road conditions state wide. 

“Understand this does happen from time to time. We set this type of project, we get out there… it’s found a need more extensive repairs for whatever reason and we address it,” Garrett said. “INDOT has a an asset management program that includes anything from roadways to bridges to pipes, signs, basically if it’s on a state road it’s entered into the system and it helps us manage and keep track when different work needs to be done. We go out and do inspections, annual and biannual just depending on what the asset is. We are the Crossroads of America. So you know we want to keep our roads safe so people can get where they need to go. Unfortunately that sometimes comes with some headaches.”

The bridge rebuild is scheduled to be completed by early December at the latest.

The Johnson County Sheriffs Department urges truckers to strictly follow the detour to avoid passing over other bridges – themselves under weight restrictions.

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