VERSAILLES – Batesville officials asked Ripley County Commissioners Aug. 19 to authorize improvements to Merkel Road between State Road 46 and Lammers Pike. The county road leads to the city’s new and vacant 72-acre industrial park. They also requested that the county either pay for the project or partner with the city on it.
After studying the narrow road, consultant Steve Moore of VS Engineering, Indianapolis, suggested widening it from 20 to 24 feet and resurfacing it, plus adding a stone shoulder. The projected $767,000 price tag includes construction, $514,800; right of way costs, $123,000; administration and inspection expenses, $52,000; and design engineering, $77,200.
Gene Lambert, Batesville City Council president and Batesville Economic Development Commission member, told commissioners, “Whatever amount you can help us with is certainly appreciated.”
BEDC President Andy Saner reported so far the city has invested $1.9 million in the industrial park on land purchases, surveys and other legal documents. In 2009 HWC Engineering, Indianapolis, estimated to fully develop the site, vastly improving Merkel Road and adding infrastructure (a road from Merkel Road to all lots and utilities within the park) would cost $8.4 million. The BEDC president admitted, “It’s a tremendous cost for us.”
Saner explained, “We feel like this road is inadequate to support what we’re trying to do.” The panel is exploring the possibility of constructing a shell building at the park to entice a business to relocate there. Lambert said companies looking at sites within the park “see issues with the road.”
Lambert noted the upgraded Merkel Road would not look like Lammers Pike, which is very wide with cement curbs. “That’s not the type of road we’re proposing here. Just a widened, flat road that adequately handles two semi trucks going in opposing directions at the same time.”
“We’ve done some traffic monitoring,” according to Mayor Rick Fledderman. During a one-week traffic count in late July 28, most days the numbers were between 500-600. “With this road being brought up to an adequate level, we believe these numbers will be greatly enhanced.”
The written presentation shows Batesville’s impact on Ripley County’s economic health. Of the county’s assessed value, the city of Batesville and nearby Laughery and Adams townships comprise 31 percent.
A study estimated 2,213 county residents work in Batesville at 10 companies. Fledderman said, “You can see that Batesville is a hub of job activity for the county.” The presentation noted, “It is clear that the Batesville area is a key economic driver for Ripley County from both a tax generating and job retention/growth perspective.”
Commissioner Robert Reiners asked what happens now if two trucks meet on Merkel Road. According to Lambert, “They come pretty close to a stop. They can pass, but it’s not adequate.” Saner added, “They’re on the shoulder.” Lambert maintained, “It is a safety concern.”
Keith Crum, president of Crum Trucking, located in the existing Batesville Commerce Center on Lammers Pike, agreed. “We’ve been waiting for this (a better Merkel Road) since 2000 ... We’ve had a lot of close calls down there coming out on 46” from Lammers Pike. He explained his 125 truck drivers can’t see S.R. 46 motorists approaching from the left because of the road’s curve and it takes 9 seconds for a semi to make the turn. “Our drivers complain all the time. They don’t want to be in an accident.”
The presentation included eight letters of support for the project, including two from commerce center presidents. Dale Meyer of Heartwood Manufacturing wrote, “Improvements are absolutely necessary before any new business can consider building at this site. These new businesses will create jobs and a better tax base for Ripley County.” Michael Feagins of EL Tek of Indiana pointed out, “With most of our customers being just- in-time manufacturing, and our fines starting at $1,000 per minute if we are late, the use of Merkel Road can save us on average seven to 10 minutes rather than driving through town to the entrance of Lammers Pike.”
Reiners wondered, “Are there utilities in there that have to be moved” if Merkel Road is widened? The engineer confirmed, “It’s apparent that some utilities would need to be relocated.”
At the end of the presentation, Reiners said, “I don’t think that right now ... we can give you an answer on this. I really think we need to look at it and talk it over.” The commissioners will meet with the Ripley County Council in the next week, according to him.
After the Batesville contingent left, county attorney John Ertel asked county roads superintendent Owen Heaton Jr. how wide the right of way was and Heaton said 32 feet. Ertel commented, “That would make it a narrow right of way for a 24-foot road .... The county may be forced to proceed with eminent domain or negotiate … with landowners to expand that right of way.” He concluded, “It sounds like a good project. The question is, is there sufficient funding for it?”
Commissioner Mark Busching was worried that if a future industrial park company asked for an even wider road after the upgrade, “then it’s money down the drain.”
While Reiners said he’s never had one complaint from any trucking companies about Merkel Road’s condition, “I’m not knocking the project … in the future, it will probably bring a lot more jobs to Ripley County, which is great.” Busching said, “I applaud them for being pro-active.”
Reiners said if commissioners decide to earmark funds to better the road, they will “make it known this is a one-time deal.” If more improvements are needed later, “we will not participate.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.