City mulls $4.8M Benham Avenue project

Benham Avenue, here at the northernmost end between the railroad underpass and the water tower, could soon be under construction, as City Council considers a $4.8 million upgrade.

ELKHART — Benham Avenue on Elkhart’s south side could be up for a $4.8 million makeover.

If the City Council appropriates the money, a large part of the street will be resurfaced, improvements will be made for pedestrians and cyclists, and a new water main, sanitary sewer and storm sewer will be installed.

“It’s a great project and it’s long overdue,” said City Councilman Dwight Fish, D-4, whose district borders on the northern part of Benham Avenue.

He said the city has the money and the time to act is now, before the price tag becomes higher as the infrastructure deteriorates.

According to the city’s engineering division, much of Benham Avenue was constructed as a state highway more than 50 years ago.

“The concrete pavement has reached the end of its useful life. In addition, the form of the street was designed for moving vehicles. A new form is needed, not only for vehicles, but for bicycles and pedestrians,” city-engineer Mike Machlan and right-of-way-engineer Jeff Schaffer said in a letter to the Mayor’s Office and City Council.

The largest part of the funds, $3.2 million, would cover a complete reconstruction of the pavement and sidewalks from Indiana Avenue to Lusher Avenue. In the same area will be wider sidewalks, a center turn lane and new lighting. Under ground, the water main will be replaced and a new storm sewer will be installed.

About $900,000 would be spent to reconstruct LaSalle Street and McKinley and Park avenues, side streets that form a triangle just south of the water tower. 

In the same area, water, storm sewer and sanitary sewer work will be funded by the utility fund.

Another $500,000 would be spent in a project with Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Concord Community Schools to construct new sidewalks and new lighting from Hively Avenue to Mishawaka Road and on Mishawaka Road from Benham Avenue to Sixth Street and new pedestrian signals at the intersection of Benham Avenue and Mishawaka Road. 

Finally, $200,000 would be spent to resurface the street from the railroad underpass to Indiana Avenue, while replacing curb ramps and crosswalks in the same area.

Machlan and Schaffer called Benham Avenue a “main street” for the south central section of the city.

According to Mayor Tim Neese’s communications director, Courtney Bearsch, Neese is also in favor of the project and hopes the council will appropriate the money.

“The goal of public infrastructure projects such as this is to elevate the attractiveness of adjacent neighborhoods by creating a more walkable environment and increasing property values. Promoting walkability is also a way to connect residents to various resources and other neighborhood attractions,” Bearsch said in an email.

She said proposed improvements to water lines and sewers explains part of the $4.8 million price tag.

Fish said he fully expects all of his eight City Council colleagues to vote in favor of the project.

“We have talked about it since I’ve been on the council, and I wouldn’t want to be the council person that votes against it,” he said.

Bearsch said that, if the project is approved, construction could begin this year and conclude at an unspecified time in 2020. 

Benham Avenue connects two elementary schools, one middle school, three churches, the Woodland Crossing shopping center, the Tolson Center, Pierre Moran Park, three multifamily-housing communities, numerous subdivisions and the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary campus, according to Machlan and Schaffer.

They stated that city staff has twice applied to Indiana Department of Transportation for a Community Crossing Matching Grant of $1 million for the project, but that the applications failed. Staff members now say they believe this project was too big for the grant and they plan to focus on resurfacing projects in future applications.

At the City Council meeting this week, City Council President Brian Dickerson placed the two ordinances concerning the project in the Finance Committee. Ordinance 19-O-38 would transfer the $4.8 million from the General Fund to the Elkhart Capital Outlay Fund, while 19-O-39 would appropriate the funds from there to the project. 

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

(1) comment

Joe King

Great Idea! I also think Main St south of the trax could use some love too!

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