Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 6, 2012

WHO WE ARE: Infrastructure changes with needs


GOSHEN — Elkhart County residents have come along way since settlers traveled on foot and horseback through the forests on Indian paths 180 years ago.

Today local and state leaders are constantly widening and improving roads and intersections to move the ever-increasing load of traffic through the county.

Chicago to Fort Wayne road

The earliest “roads” in Elkhart County were little more than Indian foot paths. Of course there were no road markers or maps to help travelers on these crude routes.

The most prominent pathway in the early-1800s was the Chicago to Fort Wayne trail that is generally the route of U.S. 33 through Elkhart County.

The Fort Wayne Road was laid out in 1832 and was built in 1833. That 76-mile highway from Fort Wayne to South Bend, was authorized by the state legislature. The first real road in the county was the Logansport Road, authorized by the legislature in 1830. That route entered the south part of the county at Milford Junction, ran north along what is now Ind. 15, then headed northeast on the Middlebury Road to the Michigan state line.

A second road was ordered built by the county commissioners in November, 1831, and was laid out that winter. That was the Mishawaka Road, from Dunlap to the west county line.

Also, in January, 1832 the legislature authorized a road to be built from the county seat of Grant County to Goshen. That is why C.R. 23, south of Goshen to Syracuse and beyond, was called the Syracuse-Huntington Road.

In the mid-1800s, road location was the principal item of business for the county commissioners. Gravel road companies were organized by residents to build and maintain the roads. Each male resident worked two days a year to maintain the roads.

But in the late-1880s, counties bought up these companies and took over the maintenance of the roads.

Bridges, like highways, were built after action of the state legislature until county governments were given the authority to build bridges in 1855. Since 1870 counties have had the sole responsibility for the care of bridges.

Toll road links East Coast

About 60 years ago, Indiana officials joined other states and funded the Indiana Toll Road, which became a part of Interstate 80 that links Chicago to the East Coast.

“That was a major feat at the time,” said David Hess, currently an Elkhart County councilman and former county commissioner, county auditor and county manager.

Elkhart County officials about 20 years ago began widening and rebuilding several routes, starting with C.R. 6 near the Elkhart airport.

“We built as we could finance it,” Hess said. “We slowly kept working our way east.”

But what started out as a way to solve congestion on C.R. 6 soon became a bigger plan, Hess said. At the same time as this work was done, Indiana officials built the U.S. 20 bypass through central Elkhart County, making a new four-lane road to C.R. 17.

“It became obvious that with a tie into C.R. 17 that a major upgrade had to be a part of it,” Hess explained. “Not all that traffic on the 20 bypass was going on east on 20. Some of these decisions became much more clear as we worked on 6 and 17.”

And the new C.R. 17 construction involved officials in Cass County, Mich., Hess pointed out.

“The Cass County Commissioners came down and said ‘we need a link to U.S. 12,’” Hess said. “They worked with Elkhart County officials to build the road two miles into Michigan and link to that highway. It was really a major improvement.”

By using other major Michigan roads, Hess pointed out, it is possible to easily drive from Goshen to I-94 in Michigan.

“We now have a beltway,” Hess said, “that includes C.R. 17, U.S. 20, U.S. 31 and the toll road around the major metropolitan areas very similar to other cities, such as the one (around) Indianapolis.”

With the completion of C.R. 17 south to Kercher Road by this October, Hess said county officials will work on other traffic improvements to help the flow of traffic. The intersection of C.R. 21 and Kercher has been widened and improved and C.R. 19 will get the same treatment, but it is not scheduled until 2014.

Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman agrees that completion of the U.S. 20 bypass allowed driver quicker access to South Bend and the toll road and ultimately to Chicago. “It was even a bigger deal for Elkhart,” Kauffman said.

Kauffman added that with the construction of the north-south C.R. 17, some pressure was taken off the need to widen Ind. 15 through the city. “Without it, we would need to widen Ind. 15 to four lanes. It provides some traffic relief,” the mayor said.  

Goshen officials worked to obtain 75 percent federal funding to build the Main/Third Street overpass over the railroad tracks and Rock Run Creek in the early 1980s. Ground was broken in January, 1983 and the ribbon was cut on the $4 million project in November, 1984. Building the overpass allowed Goshen to close the Middlebury Fire Station #2, which was turned into a community health center.

Jeff Taylor, manager of the county highway department, confirmed this month that the next leg of C.R. 17 will open in October.

South Link Road

Another big Goshen project is completing the south link road over the railroad tracks to Ind. 15.

There is funding to connect Regent Street to Ind. 15, Cripe said. A traffic study will be completed to help with the design, which will be done by Wightman-Petrie Engineers. She said construction is anticipated in 2014.

“We want to get this completed before the U.S. 33 work starts in 2015,” Cripe said, “to assist drivers in getting around the community.”  

David Daughterty, president of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, cited completion of C.R. 17 as the most important project on the table today.

“County Road 17 needs to be completed to a route to the Goshen industrial park” Daughterty said this month.

He said the chamber has a committee studying the issue, to make a recommendation on which east-west route may be best to get traffic over to the industrial area south of Goshen. He said the committee will work to get a plan in place and get county and city officials “on the same page.”

Possible U.S. 33

underpass in Goshen

Goshen officials have been working with state officials, who are planning major improvements to U.S. 33 east of the downtown. The highway is set for reconstruction from Monroe Street to College Avenue in 2015, then in 2016 it will be rebuilt south of College to C.R. 40.

Also slated in 2016 will be reconstruction of U.S. 33 from Monroe to Main Street. Seven alternative plans were narrowed down to two options by a local committee that worked with state officials.

The two possible projects include using the existing route of Madison Street with an underpass at the railroad tracks, explained Mary Cripe, city engineer. A more expensive alternative is to build a “northern connector” and run the highway parallel to the railroad and link back up at Main and Pike streets. That would avoid the downtown historic district, but is estimated to cost $5 to $7 million more, the engineer said.  

“There are a lot of pros and cons to both plans,” said Cripe who has a handout to list those thoughts. “One of the biggest is the safety of children walking to Chandler School. How do you get them to cross safely?”

She said if the railroad underpass is built at Madison and Ninth streets, the Eighth Street intersection would be closed and students might have to cross at Cottage Avenue. z