East-West road may be in works in south HC
A familiar face was back in front of the Harrison County Board of Commissioners to discuss a potential new section of state road in the southern part of the county. Former highway engineer Kevin Russel said the county would take over maintenance of portions of state roads 11 and 111, with the state constructing a new state road that connects the intersection of state roads 337 and 11 with S.R. 135.
Russel, who is working for the county on a contractual basis while the commissioners search for his successor, led an hour-long discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 18, regarding a road relinquish agreement between the county and the Indiana Dept. of Transportation. (The meeting was moved from Monday to Tuesday due to Presidents’ Day.)
Russel said this has been a priority project for the county since 2003 and would bring $35 million into the county to do the project. He added INDOT would be fully responsible for the entire cost of the S.R. 11 extension and would receive bids on the project no later than fiscal years 2026 and 2027.
“Every opportunity I had, I tried to bring up to INDOT how much it would benefit Harrison County to get a road built like this in the southern part of the county,” Russel said. “I was never able to get any traction, but I kept trying.”
Last year, INDOT finally expressed some interest by giving up the low-volume state roads. The sections being proposed to go to the county are:
S.R. 111 south of S.R. 211 to the dead end at Old Dam 43 Road.
S.R. 11 west of S.R. 337 to Mauckport.
S.R. 337 from S.R. 11 to the Corydon town limits.
This totals approximately 32.3 miles of road and includes eight bridges.
“It is no cost out-of-pocket upfront but we will be taking on the responsibility of maintaining these roads,” Russel said.
The new road INDOT would build could be a part of what is currently Watson Road. A few nearby residents were at the meeting and spoke when the commissioners started an impromptu public hearing to learn about what locals thought about the proposed project.
“We need a good road,” said Larry Day, a farmer, small business owner and volunteer fire firefighter in the southern part of the county.
Day said he spoke for himself and other farmers in the area who heard this proposal would be discussed at the meeting. He added truck drivers avoid S.R. 337, and the addition of the new proposed state road would make trips safer and help public safety.
“We don’t have a good road to get out,” Day said.
One truck driver lost a tractor trailer after a crash on S.R. 11, according to Day.
Laura Frakes lives near S.R. 337 and Saint Michaels Road. She said she has concerns about the project but would be willing to listen as the plan progressed.
Russel said if the county took over these sections of current state road, they would likely improve. The roads are low volume and not a priority for INDOT improvements but would be higher on the county’s list, according to Russel.
“I live in the country because I like where I live,” said Chris Schmelz, who lives on Melview Road. “If I wanted to live with better roads, I would move somewhere else.”
Schmelz agreed the road is not designed well for farmers to do business and asked the commissioners to continue seeking input.
“I understand Mr. Schmelz’s thoughts on this, too,” said Commissioner Jim Heitkemper. “No one wants a big change like that in their front yard. However, I also look at what’s going to be happening across the river when Nucor (Steel) gets fired up and going. There will be a lot more going on around us.”
Russel said this extension would help preserve farming by providing quicker and safer transportation for operations.
“If there was roads down there that would handle the traffic, it would be a lot better for economic development and everything else,” said Commissioner Kenny Saulman, adding he has heard southern Harrison County residents say they would like to see road improvements in that area.
An actual path would be determined following public hearings led by INDOT and environmental studies.
The commissioners unanimously voted to enter into the agreement with INDOT that could take effect as early as July.
“History will judge us whether we did the right thing, but I believe we have,” Heitkemper said following the vote.
The commissioners were told bids for repairing Doolittle Hill Road will be opened at their first meeting in March, set for 8:30 a.m. Monday at the government center in Corydon.
Also, Commissioner Charlie Crawford read a resolution declaring Harrison County a sanctuary from any law that infringes on the Second Amendment. The commissioners unanimously supported the measure.