GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Highway Department is seeking grant funding as it prepares to start the next phase of improvements to C.R. 17.
The department is looking at paving C.R. 17 toward the southern border of the county, which includes the seven miles between C.R. 142 and U.S. 6. To begin laying the groundwork, $1 million was appropriated for a preliminary engineering study last July.
The study looked at the C.R. 17 corridor to the south to determine the best route to take the expanded roadway and how to handle intersections along the way. The next step is a public hearing to discuss the project and its potential impact, which County Administrator Jeff Taylor said will likely be held in September.
“There’s studies, environmental studies, that have been going on behind the scenes,” he said. “Selecting a route, a preferred route and alternative, and this is what we have to do before going public.”
He added that beyond looking at environmental features like wetlands that may lie along the route, the study also looked at anything of potential historical value and at the socio-economic impact of the project.
The project is broken into three segments to make it manageable, similar to how the northern half of the road was improved in recent years. The first of the three phases would cover the segment between C.R. 38 and C.R. 142, at an estimated cost of $28 million from design to inspection, according to Highway Engineer Kent Schumacher.
To help pay for the actual construction, the county is seeking money through a U.S. Department of Transportation program called Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development. Highway Manager Charlie McKenzie told the Elkhart County Commissioners Monday that the program would provide an 80/20 split.
“We’re hoping it can be part of the C.R. 17 funding package,” he said. “If we get the funding it’s going to go toward one of the phases, depending on what fits best.”
Commissioners approved a prevailing wage certification that must be included as part of the application. The application deadline is July 15, the U.S. DOT said in announcing the BUILD grant, and Schumacher said they should hear the results in September or October.
Special focus is being given to transportation projects in rural areas in this year’s program. A total of $900 million was made available, limited to $90 million per state with a maximum grant award of $25 million per project.
Schumacher said the Michiana Area Council of Governments is helping the county with its application and the agency feels the county has a good chance. He noted that an 80/20 split would be worth about $23 million, but the county is applying for the full amount that’s available.
He said if the county does receive the BUILD money for the first phase, it could direct federal funding that it has already secured through MACOG, from gas tax proceeds, toward the next phase of the project. He said a requirement of the BUILD money is that the project be under contract by 2026.
“We’re hoping we get the BUILD grant for the first phase, then we can get that federal funding for the second phase and that will take us down to C.R. 46,” he said.
Schumacher said the project could potentially borrow from the county’s Major Moves Fund, a revolving loan fund that’s been used for several major builds over the past few years. Depending on the funding that’s available, he estimated that the improvements to C.R. 17 could reach as far as U.S. 6 by 2030 or 2032.