Ditching, or berming, is when a flat blade is used to clear away dirt buildup on roadsides in the county right-of-way. If left alone, the buildup can cause water to pool in roads during the summer and freeze into icy patches in the winter. These conditions can reduce a road’s lifespan, creating a need for costly repaving sooner rather than later.
The countywide project by the highway department was given the green light by county government last year and again this spring.
In 2013 county roads were smoothed in the north, northeast and southeast parts of the county. The project wrapped up recently with the northwest, west and southwest areas of the county.
A two-foot wall
Steve Fortier of Goshen said the Elkhart County Highway Department made “a mess” when it recently smoothed out the sides of C.R. 21 in front of his home.
The process removed grass and roots from his lawn and left behind a steep incline in front of his yard, he said.
“I would certainly expect them to do not such a drastic job,” Fortier said July 1.
“I mean, cutting off so that there’s a two-foot wall on the front of my yard is quite a bit. I would expect them to take a minimal amount and to notify people it’s happening ahead of time.”
Fortier said he called the highway department to complain, but he never got a call back.
Jeff Taylor, manager of the highway department, wrote in an email Monday, July 7, that the wall in front of Fortier’s house is a typical effect of berming in areas where the ditch has been filled in over the past 10 to 30 years.
“Our suggestion would be to cut the ledge off with a shovel, or perhaps use a tiller to smooth out the ledge so that the homeowner can mow along the roadside,” he wrote.
A common maintenance issue
North of Goshen in Bristol, Mike Magyery is concerned that ditching has led to dangerous driving conditions on some roads near his home.
On a sunny July afternoon he points out smatterings of steep drop-offs, holes and crumbling asphalt along C.R. 131, C.R. 35 and C.R. 108.
Magyery, who has lived in the area for 35 years, said the problems appeared after the county bermed the roads in 2013. He understands why the department has to do the ditching, he said, but “it’s not a one-size-fits-all project.”
In an email sent Wednesday, July 2, Taylor wrote that he doesn’t know whether the problems on those Bristol roads are a result of berming or not.
“Roadside erosion can be found along most all roads including state roads and city streets including right in front of our office in Goshen,” Taylor wrote. “Erosion is particularly prevalent along hilly sections. It is a common maintenance issue we have to routinely address countywide – even prior to berming.”
In an effort to combat some residents’ complaints and concerns, the highway department last year created a page on its website dedicated to information about ditching at www.elkcohwy.org/Ditching.
Taylor said that residents with complaints about the effects of berming and ditching should contact the highway department, which is online at www.elkcohwy.org.
The highway engineering department can be contacted by phone at 534-9394. Maintenance can be reached at 533-0538.