Elkhart needs to provide $3.2 million for overpass construction
Posted: 02/07/2013 at 5:00 pm
By: Dan Spalding
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An artist rendering of the proposed Prairie Street Overpass project in Elkhart. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
A car travels over the railroad tracks on Prairie Street just south of Middlebury Street as the crossing arms lower Wednesday, November 10, 2010. The city is still looking to raise money to add to the $500,000 Department of Transportation grant announced by U.S. Rep Joe Donnelly during a press conference with Mayor Dick Moore. The city has long planned to build an overpass at this crossing. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬
Plans for the Prairie Street overpass is moving foward and three businesses and 13 homes are involved. A few of the homes along Prairie Street are shown across from Carniceria Fruteria a Hispanic grocery at the corner of Prairie and South Main Streets Wednesday afternoon. ¬ (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) ¬ ¬
Doris Rody, a member of the St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church, discusses the Prairie Street overpass with Paul A. Johnson, manager of environmental sciences with American Structurepoint, at the community open house about the project at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church on Wednesday, February 29, 2012. (Truth Photo By Delayna Earley)
The city needs to provide about $3.2 million for the $20 million overpass project that is slated to begin construction in 14 months.
The local share is expected to come from three sources, including a big chunk that will require city council approval. Debate on the topic is expected to begin Monday night.
Under Mayor Dick Moore’s plan, the city will seek $1.8 million from the Major Moves fund, which requires council approval.
Essentially, the city intends to borrow the money from Major Moves at a 3 percent interest rate that would generate $169,000 for the fund.
Moore is proposing the entire $1.8 million be repaid by 2018 through revenues from a Tax Increment Finance fund and money from the wastewater utility fund. Of that total, TIF would replenish $1.3 million.
Another $1 million in Tax Increment Finance money will likely be sought next Tuesday through the city redevelopment commission.
The final portion, $500,000, will come from the city’s water utility fund since some of the related work would involve sewer and other utility work. The board of public works will review that request.
Moore outlined his financing plan in a letter to council members released Thursday, Feb. 7, that included an eight-page summary of costs and benefits of the project.
Moore said the city expects Norfolk Southern Railroad to contribute to the project, but that might not arrive until later this year. Any money derived from the railroad company would help offset the local share, he said.
While railroads have a very “narrow” view of what constitutes actual bridge construction, Moore said they are hoping to receive about $200,000 from the railroad.
Moore said the city is also anticipating some money from the state for the project.
Plans for an overpass have been in the works since 2005 and the city has secured $16.1 million in federal funding with the help of U.S. lawmakers and several area groups and agencies.
Republican councilman David Henke, who questioned the need for the overpass last winter following a veto by Moore of a Republican-led budget cutting proposal, is expected to question aspects of the financial plan.
Council president Ron Troyer, a Democrat, said he thinks the debate on local funding should have happened sooner.
While he said he thinks it is realistically too late to oppose local funding — and thereby jeopardize the entire project — he expects an intense discussion on the topic.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Troyer said. “The public is restless on all topics. Dogs, trash fees, compact fees, angled parking ...”
Meanwhile, Leslie Biek, an engineer with the city, said the city continues to make progress in reaching agreement with property owners for land acquisition and temporary right-of-way agreements.
Biek said cost estimates for the project were reduced a few weeks ago from $25 million to $20 million. Much of that had to do with revised estimates for property acquisition.
Earlier this week, the Michiana Area Council of Governments, shifted some of the federal funding from construction to right-of-way. When the acquisitions process is complete, any leftover money set aside for that will be available for construction.
In addition to taking action on the Prairie Street project, MACOG’s transportation advisory committee deleted project funding for overpass plans earlier considered for a railroad crossing at Hively Avenue south of Prairie Street. Although the city of Elkhart had considered a crossing at the site, officials have backed off that idea because of a lack of funding.
Overpass facts, benefits
The following are some of the facts and arguments in favor of the Prairie Street overpass project.
• Nearly a mile of roadway will be reconstructed and improved. That includes the widening of the Main and Prairie street intersection. Main Street from Willard Street to Indiana Avenue will be reconstructed with new sewer, water main, sidewalk, curb and gutters.
• New Traffic signals at the of Prairie and Main intersection and the Prairie and Middlebury Street intersection.
• Infrastructure improvements will total $2.1 million. Some of that will include the long-range combine sewer overflow project. That will include replacing 2,500 feet of sewer that was installed in the 1920s. The 100-year old water main, estimated to be about 3,000 feet will also be replaced and is expected to improve water pressure for surrounding neighborhoods and will “reinforce the supply network for all of the area south of the railroad tracks.”
Benefits of the overpass
• The overpass will eliminate delays that are estimated to total eight hours per day, helping reduce the amount of gas expended while cars are idling. The city-issued report estimates 60,000 gallons of gas are consumed annually as motorists wait for trains to pass.
• Noise reduction: The estimated 120 trains that use the tracks daily will use their horns less in the immediate area.
• Traffic flow: The overpass will be one of the final elements in establishing a north-south corridor from U.S. 20 to the Indiana Toll Road.
• Improved safety for residential areas on both sides of the tracks. The city considers those neighborhoods to be the most densely populated area in the city. Many of the children who live north of the tracks attend two schools south of the tracks.
• The city also expects to see a reduction in traffic accidents at the intersection of Main and Prairie streets. According to the report, an average of 9.7 collisions have happened each year at the intersection in recent years.