BRISTOL — A new overpass crossing railroad tracks along U.S. 33, widening part of U.S. 20, adding a roundabout to U.S. 6, and various improvements are projects slated to start in Elkhart County in the next five years.
The Indiana Department of Transportation gave an overview of upcoming plans during a luncheon at Elcona Country Club in Bristol Tuesday. The Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce also presented its list of transportation priorities that need done.
On that list are the plans to build overpasses across the Norfolk Southern rail lines in Dunlap and Elkhart.
The Dunlap project calls for a bridge on Sunnyside Avenue at C.R. 13 that crosses the tracks and U.S. 33 to Mall Drive at Mishawaka Road next to Concord Mall. The crossings at Sunnyside and C.R. 13 would also be closed.
With approximately 90 trains or more using the three-track line along U.S. 33 per day, the overpass is intended to cut traffic blockages that affect about 11,000 vehicles each day, according to a presentation by Chris Hooley of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp.
“It will increase safety as it closes two of the grade crossings and improve level of service of three of the U.S. 33 intersections,” said Hooley, who serves as the EDC’s director business retention and expansion. “It will improve mobility and eliminate five-and-a-half hours of blocked crossings per day for two crossings.”
Elkhart is also preparing to build an overpass at Hively Avenue.
Both projects will be led by INDOT after being selected to receive Local Trax railroad grade separation grants late last year. Under the program, the state will put up 80 percent of the projects’ costs, while the county and Elkhart will come up with the remaining 20 percent.
Estimates peg the Sunnyside Avenue overpass project, with construction set to begin in 2022, at $29.8 million with the Trax grant covering more than $20 million of it. Elkhart’s grant will cover $15.8 million of its $19.9 million project.
Creating new bridges over the rail line should be more feasible than the aggregate costs from blocked crossings that affect thousands of motorists, according to Elkhart County Transportation Manger Charlie McKenzie. And following an Indiana Supreme Court ruling last year, local governments can’t fine rail companies for causing excessive delays.
“The delay that is causing the user is absolutely massive,” McKenzie said. “There’s a dollar amount to that, and it pales in comparison over the years to an overpass project.”
The Sunnyside and Hively projects were two of the 12 projects INDOT selected for the Trax grants. The state’s contribution to them amounted to about 30 percent of the $121 million that was awarded statewide, according to Jason Spreen, construction director at INDOT’s Fort Wayne district.
INDOT PROJECT PLANS
Spreen gave an overview of tentative upcoming projects during the luncheon. He said INDOT expects to invest $153 million in Elkhart County from 2020–2024.
The project list includes:
• Improving U.S. 33 at C.R. 36/College Avenue in Goshen to begin in 2020 at a estimated cost of $1.6 million;
• Building a roundabout on U.S. 6 at Ind. 13 and C.R. 33 near Syracuse in 2020;
• Replacing the superstructure of U.S. 20 over Yellow Creek near U.S. 33 in 2020;
• Expanding U.S. 20 with auxiliary lanes and two-way left turn lanes from Ind. 15 to C.R. 35 in Middlebury beginning in 2021;
• Resurfacing Ind. 13 from U.S. 33 to Ind. 4, as well as a stretch of Ind. 19 from Kosciusko County through Nappanee in 2021;
• Replacing bridges on U.S. 20 over the Little Elkhart River east of Ind. 13, the Rowe-Eden ditch east of Ind. 13, and the Elkhart River east of Ind. 15 in 2022;
• And then widening U.S. 20 from C.R. 35 to Ind. 13 in Middlebury with more travel lanes and wider shoulders. The project, estimated at $17.2 million, could begin in the spring of 2023, Spreen said.
INDOT is also looking into possible future projects on U.S. 33 from C.R. 34 to C.R. 40, and is working with Bristol leaders to continue developing the town’s new bypass.
At the same time, the agency’s Fort Wayne district is working on long-range plans for smoothing travel on U.S. 31 by reducing stop lights and railroad crossings from Miami County to St. Joseph County.
Hooley placed U.S. 31 corridor on the top of the Elkhart chamber’s priority list, siding with Gov. Eric Holcomb in calling the highway a priority.
The chamber’s second-highest priority is the plans for extending the four-lane C.R. 17 expressway from C.R. 38 to U.S. 6.
Engineering studies are underway for the project, McKenzie said. The department should have results in the fall and then begin working on designs.
Plans have called for the first phase of construction, covering a two-and-a-half mile portion of the road from C.R. 38 and C.R. 142, to begin around 2026.
Other priorities identify:
• Follow-up work on the Bristol Industrial Bypass with a future phase that includes extending Ponderosa and Industrial drives so they connect;
• Plans to widen C.R. 38 and include buggy lanes from C.R. 31 to Ind. 13. The county’s first phase is set to begin next year;
• And plans to widen C.R. 40 from Ind. 19 to C.R. 7 near Wakarusa, with construction set to begin in 2023.
Aimee Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.