Thursday night meeting of U.S. 30 Coalition to talk construction, crashes

Motorists move through the intersection where Parker Street, Dubois Drive and U.S. 30 meet in Warsaw. (Dan Spalding / Times Union)

Construction of a limited access highway that would replace the existing U.S. 30 across northern Indiana might be 15 to 20 years down the road, but local officials are ready to begin seeking input on how best to achieve Kosciusko County’s portion of the project.

The first step in that direction arrives Thursday when members of a local committee, who have been studying the issue, will meet with area residents at 7 p.m. at Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center.

On Thursday, the public will see details about the number of accidents, including fatalities, along Kosciusko County’s portion of the highway and other numbers that document increasing traffic – especially the growing number of trucks using the highway.

What is already apparent though is the extensive changes a new highway will bring.

“This is something that’s going to change the face of our community for generations to come, for sure,” said Cary Groninger, a Kosciusko County commissioner who is among about 20 people on the local committee, which is chaired by Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer.

Groninger and Thallemer both say the driving force behind plans to construct a new highway involves traffic safety.

Those attending the meeting will be greeted with statistics that Groninger describes as staggering.

According to one study, over the past six years, there have been more than 1,500 accidents along U.S. 30 in Kosciusko County. Many of those are happening at intersections in and around Warsaw.

“It’s pretty shocking what has happened here in our little community. It seems like you see an accident here or there, but it all adds up,” Groninger said Tuesday night.

Representatives of each of the seven counties  that U.S. 30 passes through have begun looking at the best options for the path of the future highway, but decisions in Kosciusko County are expected to be among the most challenging. That’s because unlike other counties where the highway crosses vast rural areas, U.S. 30 passes through the city of Warsaw.

In Kosciusko County, officials will eventually look at three general options: develop a path along the existing highway or go around Warsaw, either to the north or south.

Compared to other counties, Kosciusko has a large number of road crossings that will have to be pared down to a handful of interchanges that allow motorists to access the highway.

To a great degree, the environmental impact study that will look at an array of issues – including the location of lakes and soil types and other issues – will likely determine the route.

Aside from lobbying for a general path of the highway, officials will eventually offer input in choosing the location of interchanges.

With that will come future plans for frontage roads that will help drive future development, Thallemer said.

Officials will host a series of meetings – possibly this fall – to look at options for the route.

While the state has a significant say in much of the project, local input in the near future will be important, Thallemer and Groninger said.

“If INDOT comes back and says we’re going this way, we will have done the work to determine where that would look best,” Thallemer said.

The project has not yet gained official status with Indiana Department of Transportation, but Gov. Eric Holcomb has signaled that it is a top priority in the long term.

Further fueling momentum, according to some on the local committee, is that the state has more money for road projects in the future as a result of an increase in the gas tax a few years ago.