Traffic flow is about to improve for motorists traveling in the Seymour area as construction of the first phase of a new bypass around the south side of the city has begun to wind down.
The opening of the Burkart Boulevard South Bypass from Tipton Street to South O’Brien Street on Nov. 1 also could contribute to the growth of the city in many other ways.
Jim Plump, executive director of the Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said Tuesday that the opening of the first phase of the bypass is a positive for both industry and traffic in Seymour.
“Once it’s complete, it will alleviate a lot of the traffic out of Freeman Field without going through town,” he said. “In the short term, this is more about the public safety aspect of having an overpass over the Louisville and Indiana Railroad rail line, which has caused traffic backups. This will help alleviate that especially for emergency vehicles.”
Nate Bryant, director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, agreed.
“While (the bypass is) slightly out of our way, it’s going to increase our ability to get back and forth in the event a train is stopped and there’s no way around,” he said. “It will certainly help with that.”
To celebrate the opening of the new road, the city is inviting the community to come out for a car-free street event.
From noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 31, the public is invited to experience the completion of the first phase of the bypass by walking or riding a bicycle on the 2-mile stretch which includes the new bridge over the Louisville and Indiana railroad.
There will be candy and treats provided by Milestone Contractors, who constructed the road and bridge and are sponsoring the event. City officials also plan to be on hand grilling and serving free hot dogs.
The walk and bike ride will begin at the O’Brien Street end of the bypass. Once pedestrians make it to the other end at Tipton Street, they will turn around and head back for a total walk of about 4 miles.
Parking will be available on property along County Road 340N just off of O’Brien Street. The parking area will be flagged and have signage. If it rains, the event will be canceled.
The bypass will not open to vehicles until Nov. 1. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for 9 a.m. that day and the road will open shortly afterwards.
Mayor Matt Nicholson said he wanted to create a unique way for people to connect with the project by providing an opportunity for people to make a memory on the bypass.
He said he got the idea from ciclovia (Spanish for cycleway) events around the world, where streets are closed down temporarily for pedestrian use only.
“Before it gets opened up, we would like to highlight the significant amount of materials used for this project and the work that went into it with a day to walk the area and see it up close,” Nicholson said.
Even after the roadway opens to vehicles, pedestrians will still be welcomed because a new 12-foot wide people trail has been constructed along the corridor, Nicholson said.
“All of this will benefit our community for many years to come,” he said. “This provides a place for those seeking to exercise to go and also provides safer travel for those commuters who are not in the car.”
City Engineer Bernie Hauersperger said major road projects are an important sign of growth but often don’t get celebrated publicly.
Putting the project into perspective, he estimated 375,000 tons of new materials were used for the bypass including stone, asphalt, concrete and steel. In comparison, the Empire State Building took 365,000 tons and the Washington Monument took 100,000 tons, he said.
“If you loaded the bypass Phase 1 up in a big truck and you lost 45 pounds of it per foot on the roadway, you would be able to make it coast to coast on U.S. 50 and still have some left over,” he said.
The opening of Phase 1 of the bypass is a major accomplishment for the city. Funding for the $17.23 million project was secured by former Mayor Craig Luedeman and construction officially got underway in April 2020 under Nicholson’s leadership.
“This is the start to the overall 4.5 mile Burkart bypass,” Nicholson said. “This will allow semi traffic to get off of Highway 50 when coming from Exit 50B on Interstate-65 to the Freeman Field Industrial Park.”
The project also opens up the southern area for future development and growth.
Phase 2 of the project will connect the bypass from the roundabout on South O’Brien Street west to Airport Road. Work currently is being done to relocate utilities along the route and construction is expected to begin soon.
Phase 3, which consisted of the reconstruction of Airport Road where the bypass connects to U.S. 50 on the west side of the city, was completed in September of 2020.
The overall cost of the three phases of the bypass is about $30 million with 20% or about $6 million coming from the Seymour Redevelopment Commission. The bulk of the expense is being paid for through federal transportation grants through the Indiana Department of Transportation.
The bypass has been in the works since 2014 when officials with the Louisville &Indiana Railroad and CSX first announced plans to spend nearly $100 million to upgrade the 106½-mile rail line that runs between Louisville and Indianapolis.
That upgrade was designed to allow for more trains that are longer and faster traveling through Seymour, which is split in half by the line.