Several months ago, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) committed funds to do a Planning and Environment Linkage (PEL) study of U.S. 30 from the Ohio state line west to State Road 49 in Porter County. This was a very decisive step in the process to develop a permanent, corridor-wide solution that improves safety and promotes commerce along our local highway. The ultimate goal is to eliminate hazardous at-grade road conflicts and improve traffic flow by creating a freeway.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a PEL “represents a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making.” It considers environmental, community and economic goals early in the transportation planning process and uses information and analysis developed during the planning as the first step of decision making. The PEL study incorporates input from community listening sessions that INDOT will use to formulate the most effective road improvement options.

The PEL will begin later this year or in early 2022. It will likely take at least two years to complete. As mentioned, community input will be a significant part of the process. If a freeway option is chosen, a second, federally overseen Environmental Impact Study (EIS) will need to be completed in order to identify funding and initiate construction.

Local options have been discussed and evaluated in stakeholder groups and at public meetings. City and county planners are currently trying to identify “red flags” that could negatively impact any of the particular route options. Using that information, we hope to have one more public meeting later this summer to provide updates and take further public comment.  Locally, the options under consideration have not changed. They include constructing a freeway over the existing route or building a new northern or southern bypass around the city.

Also, worth noting is that a specific section of U.S. 30 is currently being “fast-tracked” through the process as the result of a new, adjacent economic development project. Preliminary studies are underway to design and construct a new interchange at Flough Road in western Allen County. A massive new Amazon distribution facility, currently under construction across from Sweetwater, will necessitate the road improvements. Construction on that new interchange could begin as early as three years from now. The new Amazon facility is certain to increase truck traffic congestion, yet, at the same time, underscores the importance U.S. 30 plays in the economic vitality of our region and state and the importance of a freeway.

For as long as I have been here, Warsaw and Kosciusko County have been at the juxtaposition of commerce and congestion on U.S. 30 as it runs through our community.  A crucial asset to promoting growth, our local section of highway has steadily expanded as an industrial and retail corridor for our community, fostering additional adjacent residential development. But as a result, our local traffic must contend with safety concerns at nine stoplights and other conflict points, aggravated by increasing volumes of pass-through truck and vehicular traffic.

U.S. 30 will look different in the next 10 to 15 years. It could be sooner. We now must decide what changes will be necessary to meet the collective needs of our entire community.