By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Times are tight and getting tighter for the Elkhart County Highway Department, leading to a significant reduction in planned construction and infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.
Elkhart County Highway Manager Jeff Taylor outlined a 10-year Road and Bridge Plan for the Elkhart County Highway Department — which includes replacement of the C.R. 38 bridge — at the annual Elkhart County Commissioners and County Council Summit in Elkhart Friday morning.
According to Taylor, funding for the department has been steadily declining in recent years while operational costs continue to rise across the board, leading to predictions that the department could be in the red by as early as 2015 if another funding source can’t be found.
“The tax caps have done a lot to reduce the funds,” Taylor said. “We all like low taxes. We have low taxes now. We’re making less money, and we have less money to do work.”
Taylor was quick to note that less work does not mean no work, adding that it is his department’s continuing goal to maximize the funding he is able to secure moving forward.
“Our goal is to become leaner and more efficient,” Taylor said, “and to squeeze any dollars we can to provide you folks with a transportation system that benefits us, not only going to and from work, or soccer, or church, but also helps us economically.”
Taylor then turned the talk over briefly to County Engineer Jay Grossman, who provided a quick rundown of some of the major projects currently on the department’s agenda over the next couple of years.
“The C.R. 38 corridor, that’s kind of where our focus will be over the next few years,” Grossman said. “It’s kind of being precipitated by replacing the Kercher Bridge on C.R. 38. Right now we’re planning that for 2015. And since C.R. 38 will be closed during that construction for close to a year, it’s a good time to do the other projects out there on C.R. 38 as well.”
Another big project set to kick off this year is the next phase of construction on C.R. 17 involving the extension of pavement from C.R. 38 to C.R. 40.
“We’ll be doing that this year,” Grossman said. “It looks like we have the funding set aside for that. It won’t be the four-lane divided highway (like the rest of C.R. 17). That will be a nice two-lane, more of a state highway road is what we have planned for that. That will be this year’s project.”
Then in 2014, the Highway Department will partner with the city of Goshen to do the signal upgrades at the intersection of C.R. 38/Kercher Road and Ind. 15.
“The city is funding that, but we’re doing the design work for it,” Grossman said. “Then as we said, the Kercher Bridge will be the next big project in 2015. That’s coming near the end of it’s service life, and we want to replace it before it gets bad.”
However, by 2015, Taylor noted that the department’s EDIT fund will have dropped down to just $32,000, its Major Bridge Fund will drop to just $603,000, and the department’s Cumulative Bridge Fund will be $385,000 in the red, leading to questions over whether or not big projects like the Kercher Bridge replacement — projected to cost approximately $4 million — will have enough funding available to move forward.
“We have to decide what we’re going to do with these bridges,” Taylor said. “We’re going to have to find $385,000. We don’t have a choice. It’s bridge work that has to be done to save the bridge.”