By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
When Elkhart County officials snip the ceremonial ribbon on the new segment of C.R. 17, the scissoring will signal both the end of a long highway project and the start of more traffic planning.
County Commissioners and County Council members will gather at C.R. 28 and the new C.R. 17 Friday at 10 a.m. for the ceremony. Shortly after that, the road will be opened for traffic to travel between C.R. 28 and C.R. 38.
“It’s funny how that road evolved over the years in its importance, in its connectivity to U.S. 12, U.S. 20, U.S. 33 and Ind. 119,” said county highway Superintendent Jeff Taylor. “We have a four-lane highway that connects the economies of Michigan, Elkhart County and Goshen.”
The north-south highway was built in sections as funding allowed, according to county officials. Its origin dates to the mid-1980s when C.R. 6 improvements began.
“It’s been extremely long,” said David Hess, former county commissioner and county administrator. “It kind of evolved as time went along. It started out as an improvement to C.R. 6 and at that time there was a lot of discussion between the Plan Commission and the commissioners whether to improve C.R. 6 or build a new road between C.R. 6 and the Toll Road and interconnect a lot of those industrial subdivision and places like that.”
Hess said that because the county did not have the right of way in hand to build a north-south connector, C.R. 6 was improved, starting with the western end near the Elkhart airport.
But as time went on, according to Hess, it was decided by county officials to acquire the right of way and build the north-south road by using the C.R. 17 corridor. That route was chosen because C.R. 17’s Six Span Bridge was the only way to get a route over the St. Joseph River.
Reinforcing the local decision was the Toll Road authority’s decision to build a new access emptying onto C.R. 17. County planners then envisioned a four-lane highway that would run from U.S. 12 in Michigan south to the Indiana highways of the Toll Road, U.S. 20, U.S. 33 and Ind. 119. With the opening of the newest section of C.R. 17 Friday, that effort will be complete.
That interlinking of highways was first proposed by the Indiana Department of Transportation back in the 1960s, according to Hess. The proposed state route would have started in Benton and traveled west around Goshen and connected with the proposed U.S. 20 bypass in the area of C.R. 9 (Prairie Street), Hess recalled. But local residents objected, he said, and the state dropped the plan.
“The county ended up doing what the state failed to do, in my opinion,” Hess said.
Taylor said the highway has already had a positive economic impact for county residents because those who use it save a lot of fuel to move north and south in the county.
“You can go on and on for the benefits for that (the highway), Taylor said.
One other positive impact will be noticed in coming years, according to Taylor.
“The folks who live along that corridor are going to have a nice quiet road (parallel county roads) come next week,” he said. “It is going to make area roads a lot more safer because they will have a lot less traffic.”
This new segment of C.R. 17 from C.R. 28 to C.R. 38 was originally scheduled to be constructed all at once, according to Taylor. However, basic math came into play.
“We paused and did some number-crunching and determined that it was a really large project for a county the size of Elkhart County to undertake,” Taylor said.
The engineering estimate was $35 million to complete the highway all at once, Taylor said. Even with the $24 million from Major Moves funds from the lease of the Toll Road, the county would not be able to build the segment all at once. Taylor said only the interest on the $24 million in Major Moves is available for local road projects.
“So, we broke it into pieces to make it affordable for Elkhart County,” Taylor said.
That’s one of the reasons the middle section of the new segment was built first. That portion of the project includes bridges over C.R.s 32 and 30. Those bridges were key to getting that section built first because the bridges meant the county could get 80 percent of the funding from federal sources.
“That bill was $7.3 million. Our share was $1.3 million,” Taylor said.
Another cost-saving measure was to use county highway and engineering staff as inspectors on the C.R. 28 to C.R. 30 segment, which saved considerable money, according to Taylor. That segment cost $2.9 million and the county’s share of that was $600,000.
The last phase, from C.R. 32 to C.R. 38, cost $10.2 million and county officials had to get creative to come up with the funding. They tapped $5 million from Major Moves, $3 million from Tax Increment Finance funds from the Redevelopment Commission and received a $2.2 million loan from Economic Development Income Tax funds.
By Friday afternoon motorists will be aware the highway is open and will begin using it. That use will be the subject of a joint city-county committee that will begin meeting later this fall.
The committee came about as a result of an agreement between the governments to improve the Ind. 15 and C.R. 38 intersection.
“It’s a bad intersection already,” said Mary Cripe, Goshen’s civil engineer. “It’s difficult for semis to maneuver. It just needs improvement now.”
No one yet knows for sure if the new highway will lure drivers from the city’s manufacturing areas on the south side, but there is speculation.
“I think there is going to be some increase in traffic on C.R. 38,” said Mayor Allan Kauffman.
Kauffman said the Ind. 15 and C.R. 38 intersection improvement only covers C.R. 38 west to Island View Drive.
What will be needed beyond that is one of the questions the committee will have to work out, Kauffman said.
One thing the county and city have agreed on already, according to Taylor, is to build a two-lane extension of the new C.R. 17 from C.R. 38 south to C.R. 40. That extension will give east-west commuters two options to access the highway. The extension will also tie into the city’s plan to extend its south peripheral road west across the railroad tracks to connect to Ind. 15 just south of C.R. 40 in Waterford Commons.
“We want to make sure that C.R. 38 is not the last thing that happens and we keep plans for an arterial road further south,” Kauffman said.