ELKHART — For those who live around the St. Joseph River on the city’s east side, getting to the other side of the river can be an annoyance.
For residents of the neighborhood south of the river around East Jackson and Middleton Run Road – also known as the Wood Street area – getting to the other side requires either going two miles east to the Six Span Bridge on C.R. 17 or two miles west to the Johnson Street bridge
Donna Borgaard says she and friends have wondered for decades why a bridge has never been built.
In this week’s edition of Ask the Truth
, the community voted for our reporters to answer a question submitted by Dennis Speas: “Why does Elkhart continue to suffer a "lack of convenience" for crossing the upper St. Joe River? There's nowhere to cross between Johnson Street and C.R. 17.”
If you’d like to send your own question to Ask the Truth, write it down in the blue box at the bottom of the story labeled, “Ask the Truth: What have you always wanted to know about our community?”
Borgaard grew up in the Wood Street neighborhood and now works as a bartender at Miles Lab at the corner of East Jackson and Middleton Run.
“Everybody always talked about putting a bridge right in the middle. We’ve talked about that ever since I was a kid,” Borgaard said.
If another bridge were to be added, building one that extends north of Middleton Run Road would seem like a natural choice because it’s the mid-point between the two other structures.
Borgaard speculated that a lack of funding might be a major reason a bridge has never been built.
That was also the first thought offered by Leslie Biek, a traffic engineer with the city of Elkhart.
But there are numerous other reasons.
First off, Elkhart County has spent millions of dollars on renovating the multi-lane bridges on Johnson Street and the C.R. 17 bridge just a few years ago and the county has invested heavily to establish C.R. 17 as a major north-south thoroughfare. Spending additional millions of dollars on another bridge two miles away would be questionable.
With that in mind, County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he doubts a traffic study would warrant such a move.
Yoder said the current regulatory hurdles would also make it difficult.
In Indiana, counties are traditionally given the charge of deciding where bridges are built — even when it involves municipalities.
And possibly the biggest reason, as one customer at Miles Lab pointed out, is the real estate needed across the river.
Residential property across the river and north of Middleton Run is some of the more expensive in the city, and the idea of interrupting the atmosphere would likely be met with strong opposition from residents along Greenleaf Boulevard.
“Buying the property might exceed the cost of building the bridge,” Yoder said.
“Think about all the homes and all the approaches we would have to build. It would be a huge project.”
On top of that, there is no north-south road that a bridge would connect to north of the river. Creating one would require additional land acquisition and the loss of even more homes.
And another reason: While Middleton Run would be a logical choice, that part of the river happens to be especially wide and is probably one of the largest widths of the river as it passes through Elkhart County.
Biek pointed out that spanning that segment of the river would require a bridge more than twice as long as the Johnson Street bridge and would add to the project’s expense, she said.
The city has five other bridges along the St. Joseph River that are west of the Johnson Street bridge and six more that cross the Elkhart River.
The chances of building a bridge in that area, Yoder said, “are less than zero.”