By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
A rerouted and raised U.S. 33, a quiet zone and a Waterford Mills Parkway bridge over the Marion Line will change the way motorists travel through and around the city in a few years. And those may not be the last three projects to separate cars from trains.
The city of Goshen has been holding public input sessions on its next comprehensive plan, and according to City Engineer Mary Cripe, that plan may address the desire to have another grade separation on the south side of the city. Also, Elkhart County officials are beginning to plan for a grade separation in Dunlap.
Cripe said the idea of an additional grade separation in the city, perhaps on Plymouth Avenue or College Avenue, is based on safety.
“If you look at all the residential areas on the east side of the track (north-south Marion Line) and the hospital is on the west side, it is an issue at times in emergency response,” Cripe said. “And it would make travel easier for everyone.”
She said the formation of the city’s comprehensive plan with public input is essential in getting such projects completed in the future.
“The things they were talking about in 1992 — in the next few years we are talking about implementing them,” she said.
Cripe indicated that in some communities comprehensive plans are completed and then shelved, but in Goshen they are a living, breathing document that city officials use constantly to reference what projects need to be completed.
“The plan is very useful for the people who are trying to plan for the city long-term,” she said.
U.S 33 reroute
The Indiana Department of Transportation intends to reroute U.S. 33 from in front of Goshen High school at Monroe Street, along the Ninth Street corridor to Pike Street. The $25 million elevated roadway would include bridges over the Marion Line, Ninth Street, Lincoln Avenue and Cottage Avenue, allowing Goshen drivers to cross town without being delayed by trains.
The Goshen City Council has endorsed the plan and INDOT recently approved it, according to INDOT spokeswoman Toni Mayo. The draft of the plan has been sent to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. Once that approval is received, a public hearing on the project will take place in Goshen.
In addition, Cripe said there are talks going on with Norfolk-Southern about easing the sharp curve in the Marion Line railroad as it leaves the main east-west railroad and turns south at Ninth and Washington streets. If an agreement is reached to relocate those tracks slightly to ease the curve, the Ninth Street and Washington street crossings will be closed.
Building the elevated roadway will mean 40 or more properties will be taken and others will be impacted by noise and sight restrictions.
According to INDOT officials, a noise study is being conducted and will be part of the draft impact plan presented to the public. The project may begin in 2016.
Waterford Parkway bridge
The city has constructed Waterford Mills Parkway, which is also known as the South Link Road. The idea is to extend the road from where it ends at Regent Street east of the Marion Line and carry it over the tracks on a two-lane bridge to Ind. 15. From there, westbound traffic could either go west on C.R. 40 to an improved C.R. 17, or north to C.R. 38 and then west across the Elkhart River.
Elkhart County officials have recently decided to construct a new three-lane bridge over the river on C.R. 38. The City Council is paying for the extension of the new C.R. 17 from C.R. 38 to C.R. 40 to handle the expected increase in traffic. That new extension will be a “super two-lane” road, with limited access to hook into the four-lane C.R. 17.
Another portion of the rail-vehicle improvement plan is to establish a quiet zone along the Marion Line in Goshen from College Avenue north to Lincoln Avenue. To create the quiet zone, city officials have to meet state and federal guidelines for rail crossing safety.
To meet those guidelines, city officials will close some crossings and install gates at others so train engineers don’t have to blow train horns at each crossing, creating a racket throughout the city at all times of the day and night.
The first phase of the $1.7 million crossing plan has been approved by the City Council and the Redevelopment Commission will pay the city’s 10 percent portion of the cost. A federal grant will cover 90 percent of the cost.
Six crossings along the Marion Line will have gates installed. Of the six, Cripe said earlier this year that three have just stop signs and three have flashing lights. None have gates now.
“There are still four more intersections that will have to be upgraded,” Cripe said.
The county’s problem
The second largest rail freight yard in the United States is the Robert Young Yard in Elkhart. There, long freight trains are made up to move goods made in this region worldwide and other trains arrive with goods to supply the Midwest. The yard is a hub of important industrial activity.
Norfolk-Southern owns the yard and the tracks that run from Elkhart through Goshen and on east. The company had a record year moving goods, which means more trains passed along the line last year. In the future, the Federal Railroad Administration expects tonnage of goods moved by rail to continue to increase. In 2010 an estimated 12.5 billion tons were moved by rail. In 2025, the FRA expects freight movement will reach 14.1 billion tons.
For the county, the biggest traffic snarl created by trains occurs in Dunlap, most notably at the C.R. 13 intersection.
“I can tell you that all three commissioners would say it’s a high priority for us to get a grade separation of some sort there (Dunlap),” Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said. “I can say we are seriously thinking about what can be done. If we look at it today, that means it might be six years until something happens.”
The delay is due to planning, of course, but also to the lack of funds.
“I think in light of the Prairie Street project in Elkhart and the Waterford project in Goshen, the county has laid low in requesting funds to allow those city entities to acquire the majority of federal funds to get their projects done,” said Elkhart County Highway Superintendent Jeff Taylor. “There is a limited amount of money that MACOG distributes.”
The Michiana Council of Governments is the regional planning agency that oversees federal-aid highway projects.
Yoder said the commissioners are trying to figure out where the money to build a $15 million to $20 million grade separation in Dunlap will come from. State property tax caps have shrunk the county’s budget. The county has been so strapped for cash that it has been using about $1 million in Economic Development Income Tax funds the last two years to balance its general fund. EDIT funds were also used to pay for the final construction of the new four-lane C.R. 17.
But Yoder indicated if planning for the grade separation begins soon, the county might be able to allocate enough funds to build it in the next few years.
“Things will only get worse,” Yoder said. “And we need more grade separations along those tracks.”
Follow Roger Schneider on Twitter at rschneider_TGN