Projected highway spending spikes

Jason Spreen, Fort Wayne district construction director for the Indiana Department of Transporation, speaks Tuesday at the annual INDOT luncheon in Bristol organized by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

BRISTOL — More than $150 million will be invested in road projects in Elkhart County over the next five years, state transportation officials say.

The $153 million investment will include patching and resurfacing roads, replacing bridges and building railroad overpasses, according to Jason Spreen, Fort Wayne district construction director for the Indiana Department of Transportation. Spreen spoke Tuesday at the annual INDOT luncheon in Bristol organized by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

“Last year we recorded, I think, just over $100 million,” he said. “The need has arisen, and we’re up to $153 million.”

The plan for 2020 through 2024 includes 94 lane miles resurfaced, rehabilitated or patched, for a total of $88 million, and 45 bridges and culverts rehabilitated for a total of $29 million. It also includes an investment of $36 million through the Local Trax grant program.

The Trax grant is contributing money toward building railroad overpasses in Elkhart and Dunlap. 

The Elkhart overpass will take Hively Avenue over the tracks at a total cost of $19.9 million, with $15.8 million coming from the state. The city is branding the project as the “South Elkhart Connection,” according to Chris Hooley, director of business retention and expansion at the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County.

“We believe that it provides important connections from our retail opportunities and employment centers on the south side of the city to customers and workers in Concord Township and the rest of Elkhart County,” he said. “Hively Avenue will become the connection across the south side of the city from west to east.”

He said over the past two decades, the city has worked toward a long-term goal of reducing vehicle crossings of Norfolk Southern rail lines by 95 percent. 

“Twenty years ago, nearly 50,000 vehicles crossed the Norfolk Southern railroad lines,” he said. “With help from INDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, (the Michiana Area Council of Governments) and past common councils, today that number has been reduced to under 12,000. And with the completion of the South Elkhart Connection project, that number will be reduced to nearly 4,000 a day, and all of those will be at Main Street.”

The grade separation in Dunlap will connect Concord Mall Drive with Sunnyside Avenue. The state will contribute $20 million toward the $29.8 million total cost. 

Hooley said the overpass will eliminate conflicts between 90 trains and 11,000 vehicles per day. It will also improve safety by closing two at-grade crossings, he said, while improving three intersections along U.S. 33.

“It will improve mobility and eliminate 5-1/2 hours of blocked crossings per day for two crossings,” he added.

He said construction is expected to begin in 2022.

Spreen noted that the matching grant program made $121 million available for local projects. He said 28 projects were submitted and 12 were accepted, including the two in Elkhart County.

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