Mayor Joe Thallemer
Mayor Joe Thallemer
It’ll be years before the U.S. 30 freeway - or limited access highway - through Kosciusko County gets to an engineering design phase, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors from saying it’s already done.

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer addressed those rumors Thursday afternoon after getting several inquiries asking about it.

“I’m getting some emails from some people that say we understand that this is in the final phase of design, and it’s not. In fact, there’s been no design engineering done. That’s five years from now,” he said.

At the Nov. 16 public meeting, which was preceeded by a dozen stakeholder meetings, the public showed overwhelming support for an on-route U.S. 30 concept and a draft concept was presented. Thallemer said it was labeled and talked about as just that - a draft concept.

“The idea was we wanted to see if it was possible to utilize the existing corridor because that was one of the three options,” he said. “... The focus of that (Nov. 16) meeting and the focus of the draft concept that we had done for us was just to see how it might look. Period.”

The other two options were for northern and southern routes.

In the draft concept, it showed Parker Street with an interchange and an overpass. “That’s certainly not making any decisions. But even the locations are, again, just a draft concept. When the PEL (Planning and Environmental Linkage) starts this month - and, actually, we’re going to be presenting to INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) and the engineers later this month what we’re at in this community at this point - I think it’s going to be safe to tell them that the community prefers to stay on the existing corridor,” Thallemer said.

How that will look will become a focus of INDOT’s PEL.

“They’re going to look at everything. They’re going to look at going north, they’re going to look at going south, they’re going to look at every interchange, every crossing, what they’re going to do with it. So, what was presented at that (Nov. 16) meeting, again, was a draft concept. It’s not an engineered design in any way, shape or form, so I think it’s important that the public knows that the PEL is a time that INDOT is going to listen to the public. This is the input process,” Thallemer said.

INDOT will take what it hears from the community to come up with a proposal.

That process is already going on in Allen County. Thallemer estimated INDOT has five U.S. 30 projects going on over there and they’re on State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).

“It’s starting over there because of the Flaugh Road interchange that the state created for Amazon. So, that’s the process. And what we’re looking at right now, we’re way early. We’re going to go through the PEL. And, again, that’s where they come in and they look at how it’s going to impact the community. They’re going to look at environmental issues. They’re going to look at how the community feels. It’s a big part of the study are the listening sessions by INDOT,” Thallemer explained.

But at this point, he reiterated, there’s been no design work. The draft concept was for “the sole purpose of seeing if there’s enough right-of-way. In other words, if these interchanges and all these improvements could fit on the existing corridor. That’s really what that was all about,” he said.

Thallemer said they’re encouraging people to attend and take part in the listening sessions once they’re announced, which are expected to take place this fall. He expects they will be highly advertised and promoted.

“It’s going to be critical. And that study is going to go on for probably another 18 to 24 months,” he said.

Constituents also need to understand, as public officials have said from the beginning, there’s been no design work done and they’re definitely not in the final phase now.

“We’re not in the final phase of anything. We’re just at the very beginning of this thing,” Thallemer stressed.

The big part of the project will be for the state to find the money to pay for the U.S. 30 project.

“So you figure you can take a few years to get this done, and then they go through some preliminary design, and then they get a designation number once they settle on the design. And then they have to do the design, which takes several years. And, there’s right-of-way acquisition. It’s like a local road project on steroids. And, of course, they have to find the funding,” Thallemer said.

From what he understands of the Allen County projects, the Amazon/Flaugh Road interchange project won’t start until 2024; and other projects over there aren’t expected to start until tentatively 2027, and he didn’t know off hand when those even started.

“So that’s five years from now to where they put it on the STIP, where they’ve given a designation number and that’s five years. We’re not to the STIP. There’s got to be a pretty fair amount of pre-engineering work that’s got to be done and this PEL is the very first step in that,” Thallemer said, adding that there’s a federal component to it, too. “If they finish the PEL, and they decide this is what’s going to happen, then they’ve got to do the rest of the environmental component - there’s a federal component. In other words, what they do now is part of that, but there’s a section of that where they have to kick it up to the feds, and then it’s got to come back before they give the final approval.”

Just the environmental components of the study could take at least four years, followed by a couple years of design and some right-of-way acquisition.

“Depending on the number of projects in the community will obviously dictate how long this will take,” he said.