By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Elkhart County Council members Saturday gave the green light to begin work on the next phase of C.R. 17, granting a $2 million additional appropriation to the County Highway Department to fund construction of the road’s extension from C.R. 38 to C.R. 40.
“This will be a two-lane section,” said County Highway Manager Jeff Taylor of the project. “It will be in design what we call a ‘super two’. It’s going to have wide, paved shoulders — they will be eight-foot shoulders — and we’re going to have 150 feet of right-of-way.”
According to Taylor, plans for the extension of C.R. 17 had originally called for four-lane sections being constructed all the way to U.S. 6, though funding issues connected to the economy eventually caused the plan to be changed. Instead, the decision was made to end the four-lane C.R. 17 construction at C.R. 40, with the final section between C.R. 38 and C.R. 40 involving a reduced, two-lane limited-access section.
However, since the decision was made to reduce the section from four lanes to two, traffic data has been compiled which indicates that the two-lane section should be adequate to handle the amount of traffic that will likely use the section on a daily basis.
Council President John Letherman questioned whether or not 150 feet of right-of-way would allow for the county to expand the road to four lanes sometime in the future if traffic studies eventually indicate that a wider road is needed.
Taylor indicated that expanding the two-lane section to four lanes would be a possibility within a 150-foot right-of-way, but perhaps not to the extent that it has been done with other sections of the roadway.
“You could engineer an urban section curb and gutter and get four lanes in there,” Yoder said. “But if you want a rural section that you see all the way up to Big Bridge (over U.S. 33), you’re going to need more right-of-way, with large swales, etc.”
Taylor noted that buying more right-of-way would also require purchasing at least one home along the stretch and possibly a nearby business, adding additional expense to the project.
“So if push comes to shove,” Letherman said, “if we want it, if the traffic counts justify four lanes, we can do it.”
County Paving Plan
Council members sat down with Taylor and County Commissioner Mike Yoder after their meeting Saturday to discuss funding concerns connected to the county’s annual pave and seal road maintenance project.
According to Yoder, 2013 is looking to be a tight year financially for the County Highway Department, leaving some question as to whether or not the department will be able to find the $1.5 million needed to complete part one of its annual pave and seal program.
“We’ve got some pretty significant shortfalls in this budget,” Yoder said. “I’m not sure if we can determine where we are going to get that money today, but if Jeff and I can get some sort of a sense from you that we will have it, then that helps us put together a program.”
One suggestion raised during the discussion was possibly borrowing money from the County Redevelopment Commission, most likely through TIF funds, as a possible source of funding for at least some roads located within TIF districts.
Letherman also noted there are several bills working their way through the legislature that may result in additional money for the county.
“There are a half dozen bills right now floating around,” Letherman said, “everything from increasing the gas tax to raising the wheel tax, all kinds of stuff.”
Yoder acknowledged that such bills are a possible funding source, but worries that, if passed, they would not result in additional revenue until next year at the earliest.
“If we knew there were some numbers that might change between now and July, I’d say yeah, we will put together a plan A, and then a plan B if more money comes,” Yoder said. “But I’m not sure we see any changes. Any changes that might come from the state legislature I think for local road funding probably won’t make a difference until next year.”
Councilman Dave Hess recommended that Yoder reserve some time between now and the council’s upcoming April meeting to sit down with the council and do some brainstorming in an effort to find the best solution to the issue.
“That’s fine,” Yoder said. “I’m not looking for answers today, just a sense that we’re probably going to find that $1.5.”
And that sense did appear to be forthcoming Saturday, with a majority of the council indicating their willingness to work at finding a solution to the paving issue.
“You’ve got to pave the roads,” said Councilman David Foutz. “I think you start with that as an imperative.”