Spiraling road funding hits county hard

Dwindling state funding for paving has forced Elkhart County to convert one rural road into gravel.

Posted on Aug. 12, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Homeowners along C.R. 137 in the southeastern corner of Elkhart County woke up to an unwelcome surprise at the end of July — the road in front of their houses was the first in the county to be switched to gravel, and it probably won’t be the last.

Road funding is on a southward path, Elkhart County Council president John Letherman told some of the road’s homeowners Saturday morning.

“There are hundreds of miles of roads in Elkhart County that are not receiving the kind of support they should get, and if we don’t have any money to fix them, they’ll have to go back to gravel just like yours did,” Letherman said.

But Dick Longcor, who has lived on C.R. 137 for the past 48 years, was not ready to take “no” for an answer Saturday. The Elkhart County Highway Department, he said, laid down a double layer of chip and seal more than 25 years ago that has been patched over and over but never properly paved or resurfaced. This made the road prone to cracks and potholes, he said.

“You could not drive down the road without hitting a pothole,” said Longcor, one of six homeowners on C.R. 137 stretching a half mile between U.S. 33 and C.R. 146 in rural Millersburg.

Longcor and his neighbors are worried that the gravel road will negatively affect their property values, so they turned to county commissioner Mike Yoder. The county’s highway department postponed turning the road to gravel two years ago, Yoder said, but this year, the road’s condition was worse than ever.

“It deteriorated to the point where it was beyond hope of repair in the eyes of our highway department and the county commissioners, so we put it back to gravel so we could maintain it at a lower cost,” Yoder said.

Like Letherman, Yoder said funding for road maintenance is dwindling. State funding for paving totaled $6.2 million for Elkhart County in 2004. Last year, that figure dropped down to $4.9 million.

This problem is not exclusive to Elkhart County, Letherman said.

“I’ve been working up and down U.S. 31 talking to people in those counties, and every highway department we talk to said they’re going broke,” he explained. “They just don’t have money to do their jobs.”

Yoder sees the potential for other roads in Elkhart County to be converted to gravel.

“I’m not sure if we have any other choice,” he said. “As soon as they get to that point where it’s more expensive to patch than it is to maintain as a gravel road, we’ll have to turn them back.”

Longcor, who serves as Benton Township’s trustee, said he feels like he and his neighbors are “guinea pigs” living on the first road in the county to be changed to gravel.

“I think the county is trying to use us as a trial to convince the legislators in the state of Indiana to funnel more money back into the county for roads,” said Longcor, who estimates that it would take about $30,000 to pave C.R. 137.

Letherman said he understands Longcor’s concerns but doesn’t expect the situation to change as long as the county is strapped for money.

“You say you’re the first one to have this happen,” Letherman told Longcor. “My sense is that if somebody doesn’t fix the highway funding problem, you’re not going to be the last one. There are going to be a lot of others.”

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