City seeks overpass funding from Elkhart County

Mayor Dick Moore said he will continue to seek financial support from Elkhart County for the Prairie Street overpass project.
Posted on Feb. 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 26, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.

ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore’s plan to finance the local share of the Prairie Street overpass appears to have strong support after numerous groups spoke on its behalf Monday, Feb. 25.

The only missing piece in the funding puzzle right now appears to be participation from the railroad and Elkhart County.

Pressed by some council members, Moore pledged to continue to seek funding for the project from both sources.

Moore said he’s hoping Norfolk Southern will ante up about $200,000, but is less certain about funding from the county.

Moore told council that county officials have conveyed that they don’t have any available money, but might provide some if they realize a savings on some projects.

He declined to suggest a dollar amount he’d like the county to contribute.

Counties typically participate financially to construct bridge projects. When the Indiana Avenue underpass in Elkhart was constructed about eight years ago, the county provided half of the $6.8 million local share.

Moore struck a diplomatic tone when somebody afterward suggested a court should decide the matter. He suggested that option remains available, though.

“It is far better if we and county government resolve our issues amicably and without great negativity,” Moore said. “That’s what we want to do until we can’t do anything else.”

Regardless of the county funding dispute, council members rallied behind Moore’s plan to finance the $3.2 million local share with a combination of funding sources.

The finance committee of the whole, which includes the entire Elkhart City Council, voted Monday to recommend supporting a plan to borrow money from the city’s Major Moves Construction Fund and use some money from utilities.

Moore expressed a sense of urgency in seeing the council finalize the city’s share and thereby further locking in the $16 million in federal monies for the $20 million project that will ease congestion and improve the city’s north-south traffic flow.

But the project will also entail a large amount of infrastructure improvement. Old, underground utilities will be replaced and nearly a mile of roadway will be reconstructed near the South Main and Prairie Street intersection.

Councilman David Henke, who hinted months ago that he was unsure he would support funding the local share, joined others in two unanimous recommendations for the plan, saying the improvements to infrastructure along parts of South Main Street and Prairie Street were too good to pass up.

The two recommendations were approved in separate 8-0 votes.

The city council will consider the plan at its meeting next week, but Monday’s action is a good indicator of sentiment.

Part of the funding involves borrowing $1.8 million from Major Moves and repaying it within five years with revenues from the city’s tax increment finance districts.

The money will be paid back at a 3 percent interest rate that will yield about $170,000 in additional money for the fund.

Among those speaking in favor of the project were representatives of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County and Elkhart Community Schools.

Also speaking on behalf of the project was Sandra Seanor, executive director of the Michiana Area Council of Governments, who told the council that too many people had worked for too many years to let the federal dollars slip away from the project.

Initial steps in the project began more than seven years ago.

She and Moore warned that federal dollars for local projects could become more difficult to secure in the future, given the budget challenges the federal government has faced in recent years.

Construction is tentatively set to begin in about a year and would continue for two years.

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