For The Tribune

Two of southern Indiana’s main problems have found a sympathetic audience with a U.S. senator who has expressed willingness to help.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., recently visited with Columbus and discussed at length impending traffic delays caused by trains coming through the city and the negative impact that heroin and methamphetamine abuse causes in the city and county.

Railroad traffic woes

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A Louisville and Indiana Railroad lease to CSX will result in longer, heavier and faster trains traveling through southern Indiana beginning in 2018. Delays in particular on the west side of Columbus at State Road 46 and State Road 11 and U.S. 50 in Seymour and other railroad crossings in both counties are expected to become an even greater headache for motorists.Local officials are concerned about safety issues that long delays could create, among other things.

Donnelly said he was well aware of the problem because city officials have kept his office apprised of the situation and one of his field representatives has attended meetings about the railroad.

Seymour recently was awarded $4 million in federal infrastructure improvement funds from the state to build a new road extending Burkart Boulevard south of U.S. 50. The project includes construction of a railroad overpass to give motorists a route for getting around trains traveling on the Louisville and Indiana rail line, which runs through the city, bisecting it into east and west halves.

Donnelly told officials about the possibility of obtaining funds from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program.

The TIGER program provides an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Transportation to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives, according to the DOT’s website.

Donnelly said a bridge project that connects Madison to Kentucky received some TIGER funds, Lienhoop said.

A package of state and federal funds may be the best plan, Donnelly said, adding he can help in talking to the railroads to have them be a good partner.

Drugs: an “American problem”

Along with the city’s train traffic problem, Donnelly was also aware of the local opioid and meth problem, Myers said, because the sheriff’s department regularly communicates with Donnelly’s office about the situation.“This is an American problem, and we’re really feeling it in Indiana,” Donnelly said.

The senator said one of his friends lost a grandson to a heroin overdose. He added two teenage brothers from his hometown area near South Bend died after overdosing on oxycodone and alcohol.

“This is the human devastation that goes on,” Donnelly said.

“It destroys families,” he added. “We want to be all in to end this.”

The senator said he shared details about the 21st Century Cures Act, a recently passed piece of legislation that makes $1 billion worth of grants available to states to help them fight opioid abuse.

The funding will help police, firefighters and emergency medical services, Donnelly said.

Donnelly said because Indianapolis was deemed a high-intensity drug-trafficking area, that creates opportunities to have more DEA agents in the area and more funding for their efforts, which will help the situation in Columbus.

Discussion also covered changes to the asset forfeiture program — which allows police to seize assets from drug dealers and other criminals and can provide additional funding to local law enforcement — and the impact on the jail population as a result of a change to state law regarding Level 6 felonies.

Under the revamped law, any person convicted of a Level 6 felony who is sentenced to less than one year behind bars will serve the time in the county jail rather than in a state penal facility.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at or (812) 379-5639.