By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
A plan to reroute U.S. 33 through Goshen is gaining favor with state highway officials and, if implemented, would change the way traffic flows through and around the city.
The “north connector route” has been endorsed by the Goshen Chamber of Commerce and the Goshen City Council. Now it is up to the officials at the Indiana Department of Transportation to approve the route. According to city engineer Mary Cripe, that approval is getting closer.
“This is one of two options they are looking at,” Cripe said while reviewing a map of the proposed route in her office Monday.
The other option is the long-shelved plan to widen U.S. 33 (Madison Street) with an underpass at the Ninth Street railroad tracks and the closing of Eighth Street.
Cripe said she expects INDOT officials will make a final decision on the route this year. Property acquisition could begin in 2014 with construction getting under way in 2016, according to Cripe.
In years past, INDOT had proposed widening U.S. 33 to four and five lanes from C.R. 40 northwest all the way to Main Street. The widening of Madison is opposed by some Goshen residents who want to preserve a historic home at Fifth and Madison, and the First English Lutheran Church across the street. Nor do they want a four-lane road to bisect the Historic Southside Neighborhood-downtown link. There have also been concerns voiced about how a widened U.S. 33 (Madison Street) would impact the safety of children walking to and from Chandler Elementary School, which is located at Eighth and Madison streets.
Since the City Council and Chamber endorsed the north connector route, that plan has gained traction. Cripe said she feels INDOT officials are now favoring that route, but nothing is certain at this point.
So far Cripe has been the public voice of the project, despite U.S. 33 being under the control of INDOT.
“It’s not really a city project,” Cripe said, “but it is impacting us and the residents, so it is our business.”
The north route
Cripe said INDOT has about $35 million to spend on the Goshen project and the north connector route would cost $5 million to $7 million more than the Madison Street route. That means there is not enough money available to reconstruct U.S. 33 from C.R. 40 to Main Street. Instead, the north connector route would begin at Monroe Street, swing north through the right field of Goshen High School’s Phend Field baseball diamond and then parallel the Norfolk Southern railroad, cross Lincoln Avenue and Clinton Street before swinging northwest to connect to Pike Street at Fifth Street.
The road would be two-lanes, according to Cripe and would not have any other entrances or exits. She said the two-lane dedicated route would be enough to move U.S. 33 traffic efficiently.
Much of the roadway would be a bridge or elevated approaches to the bridge. The bridge would span three city streets, Ninth, Lincoln Avenue and Cottage Avenue. According to concept plans, the bridge would rise 34 feet at its highest point. Cripe said the approaches to the bridge would be earth-filled with straight walls.
Approximately 50 properties would be either totally or partially taken by INDOT for the project, according to properties highlighted on a preliminary plan map. Many of those are properties that contain homes, and that concerns Cripe.
“The biggest negative with this, in my opinion with the northern connector route, is if you put this in the people whose lives that will be impacted, the worry and stress of those residents,” Cripe explained. “You just don’t know the whole process and how it will work out and all that.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes and I imagine I would be extremely worried. Plus, some of these people have sentimental value with their homes. Maybe they grew up there and lived there their whole lives. So that is the part that is not easy. But, no matter what way you go you are going to impact people.”
Cripe said people who would lose their homes would be reimbursed by INDOT, plus be eligible for the agency’s relocation assistance programs.
Two of those people would be Mary and Dale Smith. The Smith’s backyard on 10th Street touches the Norfolk Southern right of way. A walking ramp leads from the driveway to the front porch to make life a little easier for Dale. The Smith’s have lived in the home for about 40 years.
Cautious, and talking through a small opening in her front door Thursday morning, Smith said at her age she does not want to relocate for the project.
“I don’t want to move,” she said. “I am 85 years old and I don’t want to go somewhere else.”
Lou and Marlin Robbins live a few doors south on 10th Street.
“As I understand it, I am going to be moving,” Lou Robbins said. “But who knows when. But it sounds like they have a lot of help in place.”
Marlin attended a meeting in late January where city officials outlined the project. Lou said her husband came away with the impression that the north connector route is being preferred by INDOT officials.
“It is unfortunate,” Robbins said, “but I understand the need for it.”
She, like others in the neighborhood have heard about the plan for several years, but it was always just that, a future plan.
“They are sounding like it is a lot more imminent then it ever was before,” she said.
The Robbins have lived in their home, which was built in 1900, since 1993. Since then they have grown used to the frequent high-speed train traffic behind their home.
“Maybe in the summer, if we have the doors and windows open, you have to turn up the volume on the TV when trains go by,” Robbins said of the impact of trains on the neighborhood. “That’s about all.”
Some businesses will also be removed if the route is built. That concerns Rich Hochstetler, who owns Indiana Paint & Collision at 411 E. Lincoln Ave.
“I am not looking forward to that,” Hochstetler said. “I don’t know of anyplace I would like better than this place... But I am not worried about it.”
What he would really like to know is if the project will go forward and when that will be. He was going to have the business’s parking lot paved this summer, but canceled that after learning about the possible relocation. He also wants to repair the building’s roof and have some work on the exterior bricks done. But none of that may make economic sense if the building will be torn down in a couple of years.
“I would like to know,” he said, “so I can get on with my life.”
His work life consists of fixing vehicles, something he takes great pride in. His tiny showroom is crowded with motorcycles with colorful paint jobs and a Chevelle SS muscle car he customized with a spectacular blue coat of paint.
Standing behind the shop’s counter, Hochstetler said he understands the need to improve traffic flow through the city.
“I would be for anything that helps people get from Mendard’s to Main Street,” he said. “If this could fix that, I would be all for (it).”
But he does worry about other people impacted, including his elderly neighbor who has resisted friendly attempts by others to help her move from her long-time home.
For himself, Hochstetler said he is leaning on his faith in God, assured that he will get him through any future disruption in the business.
A concern for Dr. James Gingrich is that neighborhood residents have not been consulted enough in the planning of the project. Gingrich lives on Eighth Street and is a member of the East Lincoln Crossroads Neighborhood Association.
“I personally have a whole bunch of questions about this,” he said.
He said it seems to him that the north route is an expensive way of achieving better traffic flow along Madison Street, where traffic is often held up by trains.
“The real need we have is a grade separation,” he said. “This seems to be a real expensive way to achieve that.”
Another question he has is why the project is moving forward before a resolution to the south connector route is hammered out between Elkhart County and city officials.
That route would include the existing, and new, south link road that runs east and west just north of C.R. 40 from C.R. 27 to the Marion Line railroad to the west. The city is working with railroad officials to construct a bridge over that railroad that would allow the road to link to Ind. 15. The City Council’s wish is to then continue the road west, south of Waterford, and across the Elkhart River to link up with an extended C.R. 17.
The County Commissioners have stopped C.R. 17 at C.R. 38 and are contemplating what to do next. They have agreed to pave the existing two-lane gravel link of C.R. 17 from C.R. 38 to C.R. 40 this summer at the city’s request.
The county and city governments have also drafted an agreement to improve the intersection of C.R. 38 (Kercher Road) and Ind. 15.
Also, the City Council, County Council and County Commissioners have formed a committee to hash out a solution to how the new four-lane C.R. 17 will be linked to city roads.
“I hate to do this piecemeal,” Gingrich said. “That clearly is a critical piece of it.”
Main and Third streets
If the north connector route is constructed, the city will take control of the old U.S. 33 route that used Main Street. For Cripe, that is a positive development that will allow city officials to control the roadway and make changes as the public requests.
Ind. 15 traffic would be rerouted to Third Street, Cripe said, and the city would then be able to consider increasing parking on Main Street by allowing angled parking. Pedestrian “bump outs” at downtown intersections could also be constructed. Bump outs are a popular way to narrow the distance at crosswalks for pedestrians.
But Gingrich wondered about that process.
“Main Street should be openly discussed instead of being a side issue,” he said.
Gingrich said he feels there needs to be a lot more public discussion that should include the impact on residents, and how the south link road, Main Street and C.R. 17 come into play in the city’s traffic flow.