Overpass plans promise to reduce train traffic

The city of Elkhart has been planning and designing a railroad overpass since 2006.

Tuesday, Jan. 21, the city announced Rieth Riley Construction out of Goshen, offered the cheapest bid of $10,153,024 to carry out the construction of a bridge and pedestrian walkway on Prairie St. The bid is 80-percent of the city’s initial estimation of what the project would cost.

Indiana Dept. of Transportation has handled the bid process thus far and must formally award the bid to Rieth Riley before the city can move forward.

Elkhart is riddled with railroad crossings. Right of way engineer for the city’s public work’s department, Leslie Biek, said trains are simply a part of Elkhart’s landscape.

Several years ago an underpass was constructed along Indiana Ave. to alleviate backups for drivers heading either east or west. The overpass will stretch from Middlebury St. to Main St. above the tracks to allow drivers to have a north to south roadway free of railway stops.

The public works department took a video of the Prairie St. crossing to see how often it was used. According to Biek, the road was closed for eight hours a day to allow more than fifty trains to pass through.

Demolition will be the first phase of the project. Eleven homes, an apartment complex and two businesses were acquired by the city in order to make room for the overpass. Each property was assessed by three different agencies or inspectors and the property owner was then given an appraised value the city would pay to acquire their land.

The $1.8 million spent to acquire the properties was well beneath the city’s expected cost of $5 million, and it included consulting and legal fees to take over the properties.

Biek said most of the property owners understood for the most part, and, as of July 2013, all have relocated.

ABK Vacuum operated out of 1101 Main St. for 49 years. Almost a year ago, ABK’s owner, John Augustine accepted the city’s acquisition offer and relocated to a new location on Bristol St.

“It worked out really well,” said Augustine, “90-percent of our customers think it’s much more convenient for them. He added that customers used to complain of railroad traffic and safety. With the frequent stops due to passing trains it was difficult for both police and customers to cross the tracks.

“Overall I’m pleased and it’s working well,” said Augustine.

The overpass will be completed in three phases. Demolition is expected to be complete by May 1, 2014. Then major construction will begin on Main St. near Prairie St. to allow for a sewer line to be installed and utilities to be connected. The construction phase is anticipated to be complete by Dec. 1, 2014.

Phase two of the overpass will hopefully start Dec. 1, 2014, said Biek. The bridge will be constructed to 20 feet in height and include a pedestrian walk alongside of it, with the goal of completion by Nov. 1, 2015.

The entire overpass project, including work on the area north of the crossing, is expected to be done by June 1, 2016.

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