By Nicole Minier
COLUMBIA CITY — Indiana Department of Transportation officials expect that traffic will more than double — from 30,000 to 80,000 vehicles per day — on U.S. 30 if changes are made to the highway.
INDOT has been working with local officials to come up with a plan for U.S. 30 to improve safety and commerce in northern Indiana.
Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel was one of several elected officials who approached INDOT two years ago after the agency made plans that many didn’t like — Michigan J Turns at intersections.
“That would have been a disaster for our community and Whitley County,” Daniel said.
Daniel, and other members of the U.S. 30 Coalition in northern Whitley County, have proposed the idea of making U.S. 30 into a freeway, with several interchanges in Whitley County.
“Certainly when people are going one way and there’s on and off ramps with no cross traffic and no stopping — that cuts down on accidents.”
By eliminating all stoplights, officials feel the highway will be safer, and it will open up more opportunities for travel, especially between Chicago and Toledo.
“If you look at most of the accidents we’ve had on U.S. 30 in the past year, most of them have been at intersections,” Daniel said.
Studies by INDOT have shown that even if no changes are made to U.S 30, the amount of vehicles passing through Whitley County is expected to increase by 8,500 per day.
INDOT had considered building a new highway and bypassing Columbia City, but Daniel said that would be detrimental to local business.
Kokomo has three different versions of U.S. 31 — the original highway, a newer U.S. 31, and the newest development. When the highway moved the first time, so did local businesses, leaving a hole of abandoned buildings in the community.
When the highway was rebuilt for the second time, businesses were restricted from moving out to the freeway.
“The farther out you move traffic, the more difficult it is to have people come through our community,” Daniel said.
The mayor noted Gas City, which is smaller than Columbia City in population, but has some special amenities due to its proximity to I-69, such as a Starbucks.
“I’m not saying Starbucks is our ultimate goal, but an interstate can breed commerce that we don’t have now,” Daniel said.
Additionally, with no stoplights and likely a higher speed limit, a trip to Fort Wayne or Warsaw could be much quicker for Columbia City residents.
Daniel said no official plans have been made, only suggestions given to INDOT, which will make the final call.
The city has hosted seven public meetings — three for local businesses and four for local residents — to voice their opinions on the potential changes. Between the seven meetings, Daniel estimates 300-400 people attended.
“Overall, it was a very good response for something that is just a concept at this point,” Daniel said.
Funding for U.S. 30 projects will likely be a topic of discussion in the current state legislative session. It is unclear how soon construction would begin.