Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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December 31, 2012

County-city struggle with what to do with south traffic

GOSHEN — The familiar roar of a semi-truck engine is a common sound on Goshen’s south side.

Where the truck that the sound comes from should travel, however, is a different matter with varying opinions, depending on which local government you ask.

According to Goshen city government, semi-trucks do not belong on C.R. 38, known as Kercher Road in the city limits. A Goshen City Council ordinance approved Nov. 20 prohibits semi-truck traffic with trailers longer than 40 feet on the portion of the road from the western city limits to Ind. 15.

According to the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners, though, C.R. 38 is a fine road for the traffic to the Industrial Park. The commissioners voted to lift a ban of semi-trucks along the county portions of C.R. 38, directing traffic from recently opened C.R. 17 to use this path.

This begs the question: what’s the ultimate solution to traffic on the south side of Goshen?

According to Mayor Allan Kauffman, the city’s ultimate goal is a south peripheral road using C.R. 17 and C.R. 40, though trucks should use state roads, like Ind. 119 (Plymouth Avenue) and Ind. 15 (Main Street), until improvements are made.

“We still believe an improved C.R. 40 is a necessity,” Kauffman said Wednesday in an interview. “It’s what studies have said consistently since 1996.”

City Engineer Mary Cripe said the permitting process for a project like the south link road wouldn’t be impossible, but it would take years to get all the proper paperwork in place.

“If everyone’s on the same page, it could happen,” Kauffman said. “It will still be our goal, if they can devise a method to use the existing bridge and overpass, that could work... Essentially, if there’s a will, there’s a way to do it.”

Kauffman said the whole concept of fixing traffic issues around the south side of Goshen began in the mid-1990s. A professional traffic study done in 1996 gave the city officials the first look into what may help solve the problem, he said.

“The first project was Third Street, which helped to split the traffic flow on Main Street downtown,” Kauffman said. “The county said then they planned to extend C.R. 17.”

Elkhart County Administrator Tom Byers said the plan for C.R. 17 has always been to extend it south, down to U.S. 6.

“As that plan has gone along, C.R. 38, 40 and 42 have all been thought of as east-west connector routes,” Byers said.

Byers said he served as the head of the county’s Department of Public Services for 20 years, and in that time he saw a number of studies done by the city and county on traffic in the south Goshen area. Both the county and city are looking for a long-term solution, he said.

“The biggest problem I saw with the south peripheral road is the environmental issue,” Byers said. “Ultimately, while anything is possible, as things go on, costs go up.”

The first thing that needs to happen to begin to solve Goshen traffic problems is the formation of the Joint South Goshen Traffic Committee, Byers said. The committee was voted and agreed upon by the Goshen City Council on Aug. 6 and the Elkhart County Council on Aug. 13, according to Byers, and it is supposed to be made up of a mixture of county and city officials.

“What that group needs to address is the timeline for what people want to happen,” Byers said. “They need to look at how we make it all mesh together and come up with a comprehensive plan... Part of what this group needs to focus on is if there’s a solution that’s going to take a long time, find the funding package, and they also need to go and find what to do in the interim — the role of C.R. 38, 40 and 42 and what those mean.”

Whatever the future solution is, it won’t be the current city portion of C.R. 38 as a through area for semi-trucks. Kauffman said he attended the Elkhart County Commissioners meeting Wednesday to ask for the county’s cooperation in placing signs along C.R. 38 and C.R. 17 alerting semi-truck drivers about the ban of trailers more than 40 feet in length, but that they didn’t agree to it right away. No matter what they decide, Kauffman said, ticketing will begin soon for violators.

“It may be the most direct or quickest, but it’s not the safest route... As soon as the signs go up, or we hear from the commissioners that we have no permission for them, we will start writing tickets,” Kauffman said. “They may be warning tickets at first, but then we will be writing actual tickets. The state has given us permission for an overhead sign on Main Street, too.”

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