(La Porte, IN) - On Wednesday the La Porte County Commissioners voted to oppose plans to build a bypass east of the city. But there is no white-flag-waving for city officials, who insist the project is necessary for the future of La Porte.
Mayor Tom Dermody was disappointed that the commissioners were not more committed to working out a solution to the traffic problem. “We expected more for the future of our residents and county residents,” he said. “We don’t want to continue to talk about this for twenty years and watch other communities and counties progress and move forward. We can’t put our head in the sand and ignore this problem. We see the future growth and what this means not only for the city, but for the county.”
Dermody gave as an example the future growth of the Kingsbury Industrial Park. “You’re certainly not going to take trucks right up Indiana if you do get that growth,” said Dermody. “You need to have infrastructure that makes sense.” He said the existing problem of truck traffic rumbling through downtown is obvious to everyone— rattling windows, causing headaches for business owners and residents, and endangering pedestrians.
One of the commissioners’ objections to the bypass plan was a lack of collaboration with city leaders. Dermody said the commissioners seem to be a step behind as the plan evolves. “I’m concerned they’re out of touch with what’s happening,” he said. “Our engineer Nick Minich has been meeting with their county planner quarterly, if not monthly, for a couple of years. And to say that no one has talked to them about it-- it’s concerning. Their department head is doing work with our team to develop a corridor that makes sense.”
City Engineer Nick Minich said he didn’t know about the resolution presented Wednesday. He said he overheard the topic being discussed at the meeting as it was being televised, and ran over to the County Complex to attend.
Minich agreed with Dermody that continued growth and increased traffic is inevitable. He said even the commissioners’ “do-nothing solution” will have a negative impact by allowing traffic to congest La Porte.
“We’ve found some alternatives that would not take anyone’s home,” he said. “We’re looking at alternatives that minimize splitting farms.” According to Minich, most farmland that will be impacted is within or near the city limits. Also, most farmland acquisition would be along property edges, not down the middle, as suggested by commissioners.
As for the price tag, Minich said the numbers are still unknown. Preliminary costs cited by commissioners exceed $150 million. However, Minich said planners are working on a route that incorporates more existing roadways, bringing the price down to more like $100-120 million. The expenditure doesn’t have to be all at once, Minich said. Parts of the project can be done in phases. Most of the work could be done with 80 percent grants, and Minich said parts of the project could qualify for 100 percent funding.
Minich said the Lochmeuller Group, who is studying the problem, has not reached a conclusion on the best course of action. He is not sure what prompted the commissioners to short-circuit the process. According to their resolution, commissioners will consider options for diverting traffic, as long as new roadways are not built and existing ones are not expanded.
“There are so many good points to what we could be doing here,” said Minich. “It’s not done; it can’t be done. It’s too important for our community. And for kind of a short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction, just pass a resolution to shut it down— it can’t end there.”
Dermody and Minich say they will continue pushing for a solution, claiming there’s still support for the bypass on the County Council and in the community.