U.S. 30 traffic

The intersection of SR 9 and U.S. 30 is one of the main problem areas in Columbia City. The Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana had a review conducted of Indiana Department of Transportation data to back up its push to convert U.S. 30 to a freeway.

The Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana is arranging for several unnamed business leaders to meet with Gov. Eric Holcomb about the critical need to turn U.S. 30 into a freeway.

Along with increasing rural broadband and early childhood education, the chamber has set the U.S. 30 conversion as a priority.

However, the other issues are taking a backseat to converting U.S. 30 from a free-flowing highway to a freeway because “it’s the easiest to solve, and it has the smallest price tag,” Konyha said.

Converting it f to a freeway from the Ohio border to Valparaiso toward Chicago would mean it would have stoplights in higher-traffic areas but not at every intersection, such as at county roads. Now, the stoplights cause backups for a mile in some areas during high-traffic times.

An Indiana Department of Transportation report provided by the chamber estimates that the impact of the portion of the upgrade from Valparaiso to Fort Wayne would create 10,572 jobs and would add $942 million to the real personal income and $959 million to gross domestic product to the region. It also would improve safety and reduce collisions.

“When I talk to our members (in 11 counties), there’s not one of them opposed to this,” Konyha said.

Companies like Strauss Veal in North Manchester, a nearly $110 million operation, makes feed that it sends to Wisconsin.

“Because of all the traffic congestion on U.S. Route 30, invariably, (when) they send a driver up there, by the time he gets up there, offloads his truck, starts back, he has to park the vehicle and call; they have to send somebody to pick up the truck and drive it back because he’s used up all his time.”

Even larger operations such as BFGoodrich, Sweetwater and Steel Dynamics, Inc. are on the route and need not only to move their finished product but to receive their raw materials, Konyha said.

The first step to moving the project toward reality would be an environmental impact study. The chamber is pushing on behalf of businesses to get $15 million from the state to pay for the study, which would get the project in INDOT’s plans.

“Once that commitment is made, INDOT has to carry it as a project, and they have to take it seriously,” he said. “Right now it doesn’t show up anywhere. It’s not a project.”

Converting U.S. 30, based on INDOT estimates that are about 2 years old, would cost about $1.04 billion, he said. That compares to rural broadband’s price tag of $2 billion statewide and an unlimited cost for early childhood education, which will also take longer to solve.

Economic development and transportation groups in the 11 counties in the chamber have identified U.S. 30’s conversion as “our region’s No. 1 transportation requirement,” he said.

It’s a project that’s been talked about for a long time, and Konyha knows from experience that it can take decades to get something like that completed.

“I was involved in the U.S. 31 corridor in the Hoosier Heartland,” he said, referring to the latter that turned S.R. 25, a two-lane rural highway constructed in the 1930s, into a four-lane, limited-access highway that connects Lafayette to Fort Wayne, where it links to the U.S. 24 Fort to Port highway. “It took us 26 years to get the Hoosier Heartland. I’m not going to be around in 26 years.”

He’d at least like to see the U.S. 30 project get started.

Using data collected by the Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute based on the State Transportation Improvement Program’s comparison of all six of INDOT’s districts for projects over the next four years, it found the Fort Wayne’s district:

• Is the third largest by population

• Has the fewest interstate lane miles in the state. It ranks third for state highway miles but the difference compared with the lowest thee is very small.

• Is getting $882 million in road projects, but that ranks fifth in the nearly $4.14 billion in road projects statewide.

• Its two $29 million projects account for 2.9% of the total projects and 0.7% of the total spending.

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