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