ELKHART — Traffic will likely go over, not under, the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks along U.S. 33 in Dunlap as plans for a new crossing chug forward.
Elkhart County Transportation Manager Jeff Taylor gave a progress report on the developing project during the 2018 Elkhart County Leadership Summit at the Matterhorn Banquet and Conference Center in Elkhart Friday.
Speaking to members of the county council, county commissioners and department heads, Taylor said plans now call for building an overpass to cross the tracks with two possible locations selected. He didn’t identify the locations as preliminary planning is still underway.
With federal funds now committed, the department is budgeting, roughly, for a $36 million project. So far, the federal money would cover $15 million of the cost, and the other $21 would come from local economic development income tax funds, Taylor said.
The highway department is also looking to apply for state funds via a Local Trax grant through the Indiana Department of Transportation. The program creates partnerships between INDOT and communities to help pay for local railroad overpass projects.
“We think we’ve got a really good shot at getting this grant,” Taylor said.
If the county is chosen for a grant later this year, the state would cover 80 percent of right-of-way, utilities and construction costs, while the county would put up a 20 percent match. INDOT would also fund the design and construction inspection fees, Taylor said.
But, he cautioned, INDOT would manage the project, including seeking consultants to begin design work, which could limit the county’s input on the project.
Taylor hopes to include results of a recent study into the rail overpass project by engineering design firm DLZ Corp. with the Trax application as a way to try and keep plans aligned.
He didn’t identify the two locations the highway department is considering as the project is still in preliminary stages. He said one location could lead to about a $20 million price tag, while the other could lead to about $35 million, and INDOT could have the final say on where to build an overpass if the county wins a Trax grant.
U.S. 33’s close proximity to the railroad tracks creates a major design challenge as engineers would have to create a new crossing that isn’t too steep for vehicles, Taylor said. He’s pushing for a grade of about 5 percent, if possible.
The highway department is pursuing an overpass since a study found an underpass project would encounter too much groundwater.
The next stages in planning include discussions with the county council and commissioners on input and to begin tackling right-of-way issues.
Plans for a new railroad overpass in Dunlap have been in the works for years amid complaints the frequent train traffic on the three-track rail line blocks creates congestion at crossings. About 100 trains on average travel the line each day.
Taylor also updated Leadership Summit attendees on other major upcoming road projects.
They include widening C.R. 38 from Goshen’s east side to Ind. 13 to create buggy lanes with the first phase to run from C.R. 31 to C.R. 35.
“You have a dangerous mix of buggies, bicycles, RV traffic, semi traffic, cars and who knows what else driving up and down through there at very high speeds,” Taylor said, describing the area as having been overlooked for too long.
Another project would add a buggy lane on C.R. 40 from Ind. 119 in Wakarusa to C.R. 7 following requests to build one there. Plans also call for wrapping up work on C.R. 38 in Goshen from Ind. 15 to C.R. 17.
EDIT funds would be used to pay for the projects.