Goshen High School’s baseball field will be saved under a revised plan to reroute U.S. 33 around downtown Goshen.
Sparing Phend Field, built in 1967, was the only significant change to the plan as it recently cleared the environmental review process by the Federal Highway Administration, said city engineer Mary Cripe.
The review’s completion now paves the way for the right-of-way acquisition process to begin.
"I’m excited everything has been approved and now it moves forward,” Cripe said. “There have been a lot of people who put their lives on hold, not knowing how it will be decided.”
The new route, called the Northern Connector, will remove the highway from the downtown, something city leaders have dreamed about for decades, and extend U.S. 33 from the intersection of Pike and Main streets eastward so that it largely runs parallel to the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks on the east side of town and connects it with the existing route at Monroe Street. The route will include three overpasses built at Cottage Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and the railroad spur that runs north and south along the east side of Ninth Street.
The new roadway will require demolition of 31 homes, many of them rentals, and five businesses. But Cripe said there are many positives: For one thing, Chandler Elementary School students will continue to have a safe place to cross Madison Street at the intersection of Eighth Street because a traffic signal will remain there.
But even more importantly, a highway carrying semi-trucks will no longer run down Main Street through the heart of the downtown historic district. The city also hopes to persuade the state to reroute S.R. 15 onto Third Street, Cripe said.
"Getting semis off that corridor and getting the U.S. highway off that corridor is significant,” Cripe said. “If you’re trying to be a place where people want to be, people tend to shy away from places where there are heavy trucks.”
Vibrations from the trucks also aren’t good for the historic structures.
Cripe added that returning jurisdiction of Main Street to the city will save the city money. Now, any time the city wants to alter the street in any way, it must apply for state approval. As an example, the state requires 12 to 14 inches of paving material be laid on the street when it’s resurfaced to accommodate the weight of the trucks. The city only adds seven to eight inches of material on lesser traveled streets.
Cripe said the state has been considering the project since 1992, but city officials started talking about it even before then. In 2011, the state had planned to widen the existing route south of the downtown but later agreed to the alternate route.
"We haven’t always agreed but this time we were able to give enough pros and cons about why the North Connector was best,” Cripe said.
Over the new few months, INDOT or a contracted buyer will begin contacting affected property owners about the property appraisal process, said INDOT spokeswoman Toni Mayo. Those who rent housing also will receive help finding new homes.
Construction work is slated to begin in 2016 and finish by 2018, and the cost is estimated at between $20 million and $25 million.
The review process followed a public hearing in March at Goshen High School, where some who attended criticized the plan for building only a two-lane road. Brian Smith, spokesman for DLZ Construction, contracted to design the route, said four lanes would have been more expensive and required more right-of-way acquisition. Also, because there will be no traffic signals between Pike and Madison streets, the flow of traffic will be relatively smooth, he said.