Peace at last or just political posturing?
A long-standing stalemate between the city of Goshen and Elkhart County over how to construct an east-west arterial road south of Goshen was the main topic of discussion at a campaign forum at the Goshen Chamber of Commerce Saturday.
Several of the five Republicans vying for three at-large seats for Elkhart County Council struck a conciliatory tone in discussing the dilemma in getting the city and county on the same path toward linking C.R. 17 west of the city to much of the industry to the east side of Goshen.
The issue is complicated by environmental concerns, the need for a bridge, residential concerns and a lack of readily-available money on the county’s part.
The standoff between the city and county goes way back.
One of the candidates, Randy Wilson said he talked with a county attorney who told him the debate dates back to 1968. “I said, ‘What? This sounds like the Israelis and Palestinians.’ ”
But there they were Saturday, some of the top officials on both sides putting forth a spirit of cooperation, just like Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat tried on occasion.
While it was noted that County Council members don’t have a direct hand in shaping policy — the board is a fiscal body — the issue was front and center for several reasons, including candidate Tom Stump whose campaign is based in part on efforts to create better relations with the city and county.
Stump admits his role as a county councilman might be limited to finances, but the longtime Goshen City Councilman said he still believes he can play a role in the debate.
The topic is also of crucial concern to two other people who were at Saturday’s meeting — Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, who often attends Chamber forums — and David Daugherty, executive director of the Chamber who started off the forum with the topic.
“That four-lane road is very critical to Goshen’s industrial south side when you talk about economic development,” Daugherty said. “It’s important that a good connection between (county roads) 17 and 38 over to the industrial park area is done as soon as possible because it becomes a dangerous situation.”
Council President John Letherman was one of several who said the lack of funds represents a huge hurdle.
“We don’t have the money to fund a south peripheral road. We’re not even close right now. We’re just trying to pay for what we got,” Letherman said. “But long term, (C.R.) 38, 40 and 42 all across east-west, all are going to need attention,” he said.
Letherman, along with Wilson and county councilman David Ashe, suggested city and county officials need to discuss the issue.
Wilson suggested Elkhart County officials, along with representatives of other nearby counties lobby the Legislature to seek a bigger share of the gasoline tax revenues for road work for their areas because northern counties struggle more with road maintenance than other counties.
Candidate Jason Obendorf said he liked that idea and said the county needs to find more sources of funding. He said extending C.R. 17 and freeing up congestion on C.R. 38 is a “fantastic idea,” but said the county needs to explore finding alternative sources to fund the road work.
“I will take inconvenience over county debt any day of the week. The only way we’re going to get this project done is when we have the money to do it,” Obendorf said.
Stump pointed out the lack of negotiation between the two governments on the topic. That seems to be changing, he said.
With the extension of the four-lane C.R. 17 down to C.R. 38, Stump and others suggested immediate cooperation is needed.
“Now we’ve got this road at our doorstep,” Stump said. “This is a major project and a big deal for the city of Goshen because we’re going to get a lot of traffic on Kercher Road and we need some help from the county.”
Letherman suggested both sides meet in a locked room and come up with a solution. Stump said that’s something that should have already happened.
Stump said he thinks the county needs to help fund road construction east from C.R. 17 to Ind. 15 while the city could possibly cover the costs further to the east.
Peace at last or just political posturing?
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