ELKHART — For seniors Sara Tomasbi and Alyssa Fry, the drive to and from Concord High School is frustrating to say the least.
The two students pass through the busy intersection where C.R. 18 meets C.R. 115 and C.R. 13 at least twice every day. Traffic backs up, drivers don’t make complete stops at stop signs and fender benders block the road.
“Often times this can mean the difference between being on time and being late to school,” said Fry, who lives on C.R. 13.
But instead of letting their frustration stew, Tomasbi and Fry teamed up for a service learning project as part of a class at Concord and brought their concerns to the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
“Sometimes students underestimate the impact they can have,” said Matt Furfaro, a long-time U.S. government teacher at the high school.
Furfaro encourages his students to take an active role in local government by working on a community project and writing letters to elected officials.
Tomasbi and Fry had no doubt that their project would focus on improving the hectic intersection near their homes. The pair began working in early March with Justin Zimmer, a project engineer with the Elkhart County Highway Department who has helped students in Furfaro’s class for the past three semesters. Zimmer guided Tomasbi and Fry through the process that engineers go through to study intersections for potential improvements.
“I tried to open the door to brainstorm as many solutions as they could think of,” Zimmer said. “I thought they did a good job of picking an area in the county that is very abnormal.”
Tomasbi and Fry studied traffic counts, accident reports and other data to come up with three potential solutions for the intersection.
“It’s really hard when you’re going down C.R. 18, and you’re trying to turn left onto C.R. 115,” said Tomasbi, who lives on C.R. 115. “People are really impatient, and that’s when people get into accidents because they’re trying to make unsafe turns.”
The first and least expensive answer to improve the intersection would be to create a four-way stop, the students said. Another option would be to realign C.R. 115 with C.R. 13, but Tomasbi pointed out that construction would be pricey. The pair said the county could find a middle ground by installing a traffic signal, which they estimated would cost roughly $200,000.
“Adding a signal would increase the safety of the intersection and decrease the delay for drivers,” Tomasbi explained.
Commissioner Mike Yoder said the county reviewed realignment about five years ago but noted that funding the $1.6 million project was not practical.
Yoder receives more than a dozen letters from Furfaro’s students each semester about leaf burning, railroads, intersections and other road improvements.
“The benefit there is that kids are learning that they can call us and write to us, and that makes a difference,” Yoder said. “I like that he’s teaching them that it is important to engage elected officials and how to effectively do that.”
Furfaro said he hopes to instill a sense of citizenship in his students that comes with being a member of a community.
“When you look a society, we want people to be involved, we want people to have a say and we want to empower students to understand they are the future,” he said. “This is their community, their state and their country, and they can make a difference.”