$42M widening of U.S. 20 draws interest

Dana Blattner, district traffic engineer with the Indiana Department of Transportation, reviews details of the proposed U.S. 20 widening project during a public hearing Thursday at Northridge High School. 

MIDDLEBURY — A public hearing on a $42 million effort to widen and improve U.S. 20 west of Middlebury drew about 150 people but only a few comments Thursday night at Northridge High School. 

Officials with the Indiana Department of Transportation offered maps and drawings, took questions and gave an overview of the project before asking residents to share their thoughts.  

Plans call for widening a 4.4-mile stretch of the highway from two lanes to five and adding two 10-foot paved shoulders to accommodate buggy traffic. 

The proposed upgrade between S.R. 15 and C.R. 35 would also improved visibility by flattening steep hills and straighten a curve. The intersection of U.S. 20 and C.R. 35 would also be overhauled.

INDOT public hearing officer Mary Wright said planners expect the project will take two construction seasons starting in spring 2022.

“It’s going to be painful, but just remember, when it’s done, it’s going to be really nice,” she told the group gathered in the high school cafeteria. 

Long-range plans call for improvements on U.S. 20 east of C.R. 35 as well, she said in her presentation.  

The process of real estate acquisition west of C.R. 35 has already begun. About 90 acres would be purchased from property owners, taking 19 residential properties, two business and four farms, Wright said. 

Property owners Lori Stump and Chris Wedge said the state wants to purchase about 1.2 acres of their land, mostly wetlands, on the south side of the highway. 

“We’d lose a lot of little froggies,” Stump before the meeting started.

About eight people who live and work along U.S. 20 shared comments during the hearing.

One man said he appreciated planners making accommodations for horse-drawn buggies, although others were concerned whether 10-foot lanes would be wide enough for the buggies. Others expressed concern about safety when nonmotorized vehicles try cross five lanes of traffic to get from one side of the highway to the other.

“It’s going to be difficult to cross,” resident Michelle Blough said. “I think that’s going to be a real problem.”

Others were just pleased to see the highway would be improved.

“I can’t wait for this to happen,” Barry Kauffman told the hearing officers.

Written comments may be submitted through Aug. 1 to INDOT Public Hearings, IGCN Room N642, 100 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204 or via email to mwright@indot.in.gov

Preliminary designs and the environmental document, which includes information on both community and environmental impacts, are available at Middlebury Community Public Library, 101 Winslow St.

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