For more about the S.R. 19 upgrade, click here.
ELKHART — Inside the Shekinah Asian Grocery and Deli, the shelves are full, the kitchen is stocked and proprietor Edna Padilla stares out the window, waiting for someone, anyone, to come in.
On this day, the two driveways from S.R. 19 have been torn out, leaving behind just dirt, and a heavy piece of machinery is planted in front of the business, installing a temporary rock and gravel entryway. The work proceeds, the autos on S.R. 19 edge past without stopping and Padilla, in business for just two months, contemplates life without customers.
“It is hurting,” Padilla says, alone with her mother, Fedelina Delda. “But we believe God will provide our needs.”
The upgrade of S.R. 19 on the west side of Elkhart is moving ahead full steam, meaning headaches, backups and, in some cases, emptier cash registers for those who work and travel along the busy commercial corridor. Not everyone is as stoic as Padilla — the project is “a waste of money,” bellows Scott Brockus, a frequent S.R. 19 traveler — but most seem to see it as the inevitable price of progress.
Broadly, the $14.84 million S.R. 19 project, funded and overseen by the Indiana Department of Transportation, calls for the addition of a center turn lane to the roadway between Lusher Avenue and Bypass Road, a stretch of about 1.7 miles. By getting left-turning vehicles out of the two northbound and two southbound travel lanes and into the new center lane, traffic will flow more smoothly. Likewise, the number of rear-end accidents should decline, INDOT reasons.
For now, the focus of work — which started May 7 and lasts until the summer of 2014 — is between the St. Joseph River and Bypass Road further north. Going north from the river, S.R. 19 has been narrowed to two traffic lanes, one in each direction, and the west half of the road, filled in spots with heavy equipment, has been torn out. Lexington Avenue on the west side of S.R. 19 is closed until around mid-July to aid in reconstruction of the intersection.
“With the construction, I'm cutting down back-streets,” says Jason Schutz, a deliveryman for Alick's Home Medical Equipment.
Nevertheless, he can't completely avoid S.R. 19 — Alick's is a short jaunt from the roadway — and he's at the Speedway at the Lexington-S.R. 19 crossing to get gas. Traveling the roadway with everything ripped up, he says, can add 10 to 15 minutes to travel time. And then there's the specter of crawling along S.R. 19 in the hot summer sun to think about.
Also at the Speedway is Brockus, returning to his car after buying a slushie for his fiance. He doesn't have much good to say about the project.
“It's a nightmare. I've almost been hit three times,” says Brockus, who travels the roadway pretty much every day. Before the work started, he never noticed any problems traveling along S.R. 19 and wonders why INDOT is bothering with the upgrade.
Further north on S.R. 19 at the Elkhart Dental Center, Jenni Lubarsky, a dental assistant, says the work is causing unsuspecting patients to arrive late, which causes a backlog in appointments.
Stephanie Whitener, who lives on S.R. 19 next door to Shekinah, the Asian grocery store, laments that she can't wash her truck. With so much dust flying from the torn up roadway in front of her house, the vehicle would just get dirty again in a snap.
“So far it hasn't been a hassle. But I want to wash my truck so bad,” she says. “Look at the back window. It's dirty.”
The impact isn't limited to the current construction zone north of the St. Joseph River. They're even noticing south of the river, where S.R. 19 work has yet to start.
“I'm just waiting,” says Rebecca Allen, manager of Low Bob's Discount Tobacco in a small strip mall at the S.R. 19-Indiana Avenue intersection. “All I'm hearing (from customers) is a bunch of complaints.”
Traffic from the work zone backs up to Indiana Avenue, even further south, causing snarls. Allen, too, has noticed delays just getting out of the strip mall parking lot. “I'm not looking forward to it,” she says, contemplating the start of work in earnest along her section of S.R. 19, probably next summer.
Back at Shekinah, workers are putting in a gravel driveway that will serve the business now that the concrete in front of the locale has been torn out. That, along with her faith in God, eases Padilla, but still, she just wants the big machinery putting in the temporary entry out from in front of the place.
“We are hoping and praying that they're done tomorrow,” Padilla says.