Wells County receives $1.1 million federal grant to redirect Hoosier Highway

Wells County is receiving more than $1.1 million in federal money to move the Hoosier Highway west, allowing traffic traveling to and from the Bluffton-Decker Industrial Park to avoid three railroad crossings.

Wells is one of five Indiana municipalities and 63 projects nationwide to receive a share of $570 million from the Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program, according to a federal announcement Monday. The money is part of the 2021 Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and its purpose is to reduce collisions between trains and road vehicles and reduce blocked crossings.

Nate Rumschlag, Wells County engineer, said the Norfolk Southern railroad’s tracks are busy, and the Hoosier Highway connects the industrial park to Indiana 218 and brings traffic up from further south around Montpelier.

Trucks and workers can get held up by trains more than once, because the Hoosier Highway travels diagonally from southwest to northeast, he said. They first cross the Norfolk Southern tracks south of Bluffton while going east. Vehicles going to the industrial park or the west side of the city then cross tracks again going west on another road.

“By moving a mile of road, drivers can avoid the railroad tracks,” Rumschlag said.

The project will extend South Adams Street, on the west side of Bluffton, further south of its stop at a T-intersection with East County Road 200 South, he said. The new section will go south until it hits the Hoosier Highway.

The new road will keep industrial park traffic away from residential areas, too, Rumschlag added.

Bidding for the project could come by February 2024, and construction could be completed by fall 2025, he said. Planning for the new route began in 2018, and Wells County received previous grants.

When the Indiana Department of Transportation and the county heard about the Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant, they applied for it as partners, he said. The new grant expedites the work and eases the local financial burden.

The federal news release said the project will create continuous traffic flow and reduced delays. The project funding includes $4 million previously received from Federal Highway Administration funds. Wells County, the state of Indiana and Norfolk Southern will contribute 87% in matching funds toward the total cost.

Chad Kline, executive director for Wells County Economic Development, said the new stretch of road will benefit businesses and workers. Some of Wells County’s biggest employers are in the Bluffton-Decker Industrial Park, which represents more than 2,000 manufacturing jobs. Businesses in the industrial park include Peyton’s Northern Distribution Center, which delivers to Kroger stores, and the Valero Renewable Fuels ethanol plant.

“I see this as a major development to the transportation and logistics,” Kline said.

Businesses seek direct transport lines, and that could influence employers to come to Wells County, he said. The industrial park still has open lots and a 200,000-square-foot speculative building available.

Other Indiana communities also received funding.

Peru received up to $76,000 for a study of six at-grade – or ground level – railroad and one underpass along the Norfolk Southern tracks, the news release said. This study will assess the feasibility of eliminating one or more crossings and of constructing an additional underpass or overpass.

“Trains are required to stop at the nearby rail yard for crew transfers, which results in frequent crossing blockage,” according to the news release.

Hammond was granted up to $7 million for a Governors Parkway Railroad Overpass Project. It will eliminate two at-grade crossings, the news release said. The city will build an overpass and new road alignment to be called Governor’s Parkway.

Gary will receive up to $4.5 million for its Buffington Harbor Gateway Project. Proposed reconstruction of a roadway between a newly built overpass and another road will eliminate eight at-grade crossings that see 134 trains a day.

Schererville was granted up to $8.4 million for its Kennedy Avenue Railroad Overpass Project. The current at-grade crossing sees 32 trains daily.

Story by James D. Wolf Jr, Courtesy of the Journal Gazette

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