Lebanon SR 39 Bridge "Gateway" Project

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There is an absurd notion that agricultural-themed translucent panels installed on the new Indiana 39 bridge over I-65 these will help "attract high-quality businesses and new residents to our city."

The Lebanon Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initially approved $1,500,000 for the Lebanon SR 39 Bridge “gateway” project. The construction contractor was supposed to receive $1,050,000, and the remaining $450,000 was allocated to all the “other” costs (including architect and engineering services). The bridge gateway “enhancements” were to include two 104-foot high towers and backlit decorative panels. The lighting package for the decorative panels was valued at $300,000.

Before starting their work, the tower fabrication company reported that both of the 104-foot high towers would “sway” up to four feet under the anticipated wind loads. The architect and engineering work on the project was deficient because wind loads on the towers were not properly considered. The tower design was changed to replace the two 104-foot high towers with two 50-foot towers and four 20-foot towers. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) also issued change orders for two more feet of clear (intrusion) zone between traffic flow and the bridge structures.

Because of the change orders and subsequent delays, the construction contractor demanded that (1) $680,000 be added to to their original $1,050,000 bid and (2) the project be scaled back to include wiring for lights but exclude the $300,000 lighting package. INDOT and Lebanon officials accepted the scaled-down project without the lighting package and countered the construction contractor demand for a $680,000 increase with a $413,511 offer where INDOT would pay $205,198 and RDC would pay $208,313. INDOT also agreed to defend any legal claims that might be initiated by the construction contractor.

At the June 13, 2013, RDC meeting, Jack Bland, David Koehler, Jim Lewis, and Robert Taylor voted Yes to allocate $210,000 more to the Lebanon SR 39 Bridge gateway project without the decorative panels lighting package (Jim Morog voted No). The intention was clearly expressed that the RDC will pay to have the City of Lebanon add the lighting package after the other bridge enhancements are completed. 

The SR 39 decorative towers and bridge panels project was completed July 2014 - without the lighting behind the bridge panels. The bottom line is that the RDC has now allocated $1,710,000 to the Lebanon SR 39 Bridge gateway project without the lighting package. Even if the City of Lebanon can successfully add the lighting package for less than $300,000, the total cost of the project will be almost as much as the second $2,000,000 bond issue for the Lebanon Memorial Park swimming pool that will be paid for  with a property tax increase.

The letter to the editor below details how the SR 39 bridge towers and panels are Taxpayer UNfriendly. The “Blunder on the Bridge” deserves to be Issue #1 in Lebanon’s May 2015 mayoral primary.

July 19, 2014, Letter to The Lebanon Reporter Editor:

The June 28 “Uses of TIF revenue restricted” letter to the editor includes a lot of misleading “political spin.”

Lebanon Mayor Huck Lewis arranged for his Lebanon Redevelopment Commission to rubber stamp $1.71 million to have “decorative panels” installed on the SR 39 bridge, and wants up to $300,000 more to have lighting installed behind the panels. It is asserted that the panels are needed as a destination marker to draw the attention of traffic looking for the entrance to the Lebanon Business Park. The I-65 signage and GPS system in many vehicles certainly provide sufficient destination information without the expensive panels.

It was stated that “the entire project really will have a much more pleasing appearance” once the gaps between the bridge panels are “filled by the beams going upward.” The beams have been installed and few persons believe the appearance of the panels is helped by what looks like fingernail polish on long skinny fingers.

The real reason for the SR 39 bridge panels is revealed in the “Lebanon Gateway and Image” section of the proposed I-65 and SR 39 Interchange Land Use Plan. “Monumental entrance structures” are supposed to be part of a gateway program “to draw an increased amount of development interest.” Gateways are intended to “illustrate the image and character of the entire City.” It appears that Mayor Lewis is attempting to attract developers with bridge panels that convey an image of a color blind citizenry willing to accept any public expenditure without question.

The June 28 letter further states that “80 percent of the voting public” selected the installed bridge panels design from several different proposed designs. Most Lebanon citizens recognized the wasteful folly of all the proposed designs, and it is unfortunate that Mayor Lewis persevered with his wasteful mistake that had minimal public support from the beginning.

Indiana Code 36-7-25-3(a) allows the Lebanon RDC to spend any excess revenue not needed for bond payments however it wishes throughout the city. Citizens benefit if the RDC spending is used for needs that would otherwise require tax expenditures. Examples of taxpayer friendly RDC spending include the 2008, 2009, and 2011 purchases of a Fire Department ladder truck, a Street Department bucket truck, and 16 new police vehicles. In addition to the SR 39 bridge panels fiasco, some recent taxpayer unfriendly RDC expenditures include $800,777 for a Lebanon Business Park rail spur, $726,965 to purchase and demolish the Quality Inn, and $500,000 for the Lebanon High School “conference center.”

Mayor Lewis convinced his RDC to pay $520,000 for a play structure at the new swimming pool, but refused to have the RDC issue $4 million in swimming pool bonds to avoid a property tax increase the next 15 years.

It will be interesting to see if the mayor stubbornly persists in squandering hundreds of thousands of RDC dollars on lighting for his SR 39 bridge panels mistake.

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This page was last updated on 08/09/14 .