U.S. 20 expansion advances

A July 18 public hearing is scheduled for a proposed expansion of a 4.4 mile stretch of U.S. 20 near Middlebury. The construction would add three new lanes plus a shoulder on each side of the road.

MIDDLEBURY — A significant overhaul is planned for a 4.4-mile stretch of U.S. 20 west of Middlebury, a project that includes widening the highway from two lanes to five, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.  

The proposed upgrade would reconstruct the highway between S.R. 15 and C.R. 35 by developing two 12-foot travel lanes in each direction, a middle 14-foot two-way left-turn lane and two 10-foot paved shoulders designed for buggy traffic.

In what INDOT is calling the “preferred alternative,” visibility will be improved by flattening steep hills and straightening a curve west of C.R. 31.

A public hearing on the project is scheduled for July 18. 

To complete the project, which will widen the street mainly to the south, INDOT estimates that 91 acres will have to be acquired, impacting 19 residential properties, two businesses and four farms.

“The purpose of the project is to improve the operating conditions by addressing congestion, improve safety, and provide adequate separation between motorized vehicles and non-motorized modes of transportation,” a release on the public hearing said.

The public is also asked to give input on the environmental impacts of the project.

Five and a half acres of trees would be removed, potentially affecting migratory birds and wildlife, according to INDOT.

The project is likely to “adversely affect” the Indiana bat and the federally threatened northern long-eared bat. To compensate, a payment will be made to the Range-Wide Indiana Bat In-Lieu Fee Program, which works to mitigate such impacts.

Exact mitigation for wetland and stream impacts is unknown but will be determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Indiana Department of Environmental Management during the permitting process, the release said.

It is possible to see the preliminary designs and the environmental document, which includes information on both community and environmental impacts, at Middlebury Community Public Library, 101 Winslow St.

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said the county is not involved in the project, but the commissioners had urged INDOT to take another look at traffic counts when a preliminary plan suggested having three lanes rather than five. INDOT numbers show the average daily number of vehicles on the road in 2018 was more than 16,000.

“The numbers on that road are huge as far as traffic numbers, and it needs to be a four-lane road,” Yoder said.

For much of the 4.4 miles, no passing is allowed, and that can create problems when slower vehicles travel the road.

“That extra lane is going to be important, because there is some farm traffic, farm vehicles, on that road occasionally, and that really slows things down,” Yoder said.

Middlebury is also the home of some significant industry, including RV manufacturing. That puts some large vehicles on the two-lane road.

“There’s all kinds of deliveries being made and all kinds of different semi traffic up and down that road,” Yoder said.

He is in favor of the project, even though it means some people will have to relocate.

“One way of looking at it (is), they’re losing their home; another way of looking at it is they get to buy or build a new home and be along a road that’s a lot quieter. So there’s positives and negatives,” he said.

If the project moves along as planned, the construction will most likely be done in two phases, allowing two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, while construction is under way. The southern portion will be done first, keeping the existing road open before switching traffic to the newly constructed road for phase two.

The road work is expected to take two construction seasons. Access to all adjacent properties will remain open, according to INDOT.

Verbal statements at the public hearing may be restricted for time and will be accepted for the public record following the hearing. The public session is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 18 in the Northridge High School cafeteria, 56779 Northridge Drive, doors 15 and 21.

Written comments can be submitted before the hearing to INDOT Public Hearings, IGCN Room N642, 100 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204 or via email to mwright@indot.in.gov.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

IF YOU GO

A public hearing on the proposed U.S. 20 project is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 18 in the Northridge High School cafeteria, 56779 Northridge Drive, doors 15 and 21, in Middlebury. 

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