Dunlap overpass gets state funding

Image contributedThis design map shows plans for building a bridge from Mall Drive, over U.S. 33, the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and C.R. 45, to Sunnyside Avenue. The project would cost an estimated $30 million and affect 19 properties. The Elkhart County government will receive $20 million from the state to help pay for the project.

GOSHEN — The Dunlap overpass project just got a chunk of money from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

According to a press release issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office Thursday, Elkhart County government will receive almost $20.09 million from the Indiana Department of Transportation for the $30 million Dunlap overpass.

However, Elkhart County Highway Department Manager Jeff Taylor said he was notified by the state that the county would receive $14 million. He’s checking with state officials about the difference and how much the railroads are participating in costs. State officials said Norfolk Southern Railway, CSX Transportation and Canadian National are investing a combined amount of nearly $10 million in grade separation projects in the state.

Regardless, the county will accept the money and begin design engineering on the new overpass. The state’s press release shows the project location as Sunnyside Avenue/Mall Drive at U.S. 33. That was one of several options the commissioners considered in August.

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said, “We’ve invested a lot of money in the engineering studies and the community’s input and all of the traffic studies, so we’ve done a lot of work toward this already. So my guess is they’ll move forward with that — with that location. That would be my expectation.”

The state awarded $121 million in one-time, state-matching Local Trax grants Thursday. They are for the most part 80-20 match grants to help provide funding for railroad grade separations, crossing closures and other safety enhancements at railroad intersections with local road, according to the governor’s office.

INDOT will fund and manage design and environmental work, as well as provide project management through design delivery, contract letting, construction and inspection, state officials said.

Although, unlike the other grants announced, Elkhart County’s $20 million grant is actually more of a 68-32 match, not 80-20.

“There’s been lots of negotiations in the background going on,” Yoder said. “You might have noticed that if you look at all of the projects around the state and the percentage of the total, I think ours was the lowest. In other words, the local match for our county is one of the highest of any of the projects in the state. … Most of the other projects there’s only a $2 million-$3 million difference. Ours is close to 10. And actually we’ve added some other things to get this money.

“Our alternative was a federal grant that we were going after,” he said. “And we were in line to get that. This turned out to be slightly better for us financially. That’s the reason we’re going with this. And that’s the reason we had some room to negotiate with the state. I’m also not exactly sure where we ended up with the railroads. The railroads will … have some funding in this as well because they obviously benefit. So I know there was some negotiations between INDOT and the railroads on all of these projects. I’m not sure at all where that ended up.”

As for the Norfolk-Southern Railroad that owns the track along U.S. 33, its goal is to close one or more of the crossings. Yoder said he’ll have to see what was negotiated on that as well.

“The only thing we know right now is that we were approved for $20 million. Lots of details to come,” he said. “But we are well on the way for this project. … We were moving forward with this project whether got the Trax grant or not. It was either federal dollars or these Trax dollars. So we had it funded either way. We were progressing forward.”

The next step is to start doing engineering work, so county officials can begin looking at right of way acquisitions and finalize some of the traffic patterns on the approaches, especially on the opposite side of the tracks. Yoder pointed out that the road angles right there, where the residential area is at. “We have to do some final engineering in that area,” he said.

Some residents have called the commissioners with their concerns, so now that hard engineering can be done so officials will know which properties will be impacted, Yoder said.

Another concern Yoder has heard from county residents is having the Dunlap overpass construction going on at the same time as the Hively Avenue overpass is being constructed in Elkhart.

Elkhart, another Trax grant winner, will receive $15.9 million for its $19.9 million Hively Avenue overpass project. The overpass will be located east of Main Street, crossing the Norfolk Southern railway.

Yoder believes the county’s project is a year ahead of the Hively project. County officials were not aware that the city of Elkhart was going to apply for the grant, Yoder said, but they will be working with city officials on coordination of the projects.

THE PROJECT

As Yoder mentioned, the Dunlap overpass project has been in the works for a while.

In an August commissioners meeting, one of the options that ended up being the preferred option was building a route with a bridge along Mall Drive at Mishawaka Road to Sunnyside Avenue at C.R. 13. So, along Concord Mall’s southeastern edge, the elevation would begin near Mall and Center drives, cross Yellow Creek, U.S. 33, the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and C.R. 45 before descending onto Sunnyside Avenue. A connector would also be built to U.S. 33 as well as an upgraded intersection at Sunnyside Avenue and C.R. 13.

The work, as estimated by county officials in August, could affect a mix of about 14 homes and five businesses.

The commissioners voted at that time to recommend INDOT follow the Mall Drive overpass plan if Elkhart County was selected for the Trax grant.

An average of about 100 trains use the rail line each day. The crossings at C.R. 13 and Sunnyside Avenue are used by more than 5,000 vehicles a day, county officials estimated.

KOSCIUSKO COUNTY AWARD

One other local project will receive funding.

Kosciusko County was awarded $7.76 million for its C.R. 1300 North extension over the Norfolk Southern Railroad and Main Street. That project is estimated to cost $9.6 million.

Gov. Holcomb said Thursday, “Local Trax funding is targeted toward the highest priority rail crossings where accidents have been frequent, chronic congestion has frustrated drivers and rail crossings have limited potential for development. These projects will help solve those challenges.”

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