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LaPorte County Farmers Studying Bypass Options

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, February 9, 2018

LaPorte County farmers are bristling over plans for a new four-lane highway that would connect with the Indiana Toll Road so trucks don't have to drive through LaPorte's downtown.

The eight-mile-long roadway will require farmland and quite possibly some of the acres Harold Parker uses to supply tomatoes under a contract with central Indiana-based Red Gold, the makers of ketchup, diced tomatoes and other products.

There are four routes being studied, including one that cuts across his farm along S.R. 49 just east of the city limits.

Parker, president of the local branch of Indiana Farm Bureau, said he's not opposed to it, necessarily, as long as the outcome is fair to all parties involved.

"We're not against public development. We just want the best for the money that's going to be spent and not hurt too much to where we can't make a living," Parker said.

Judy Pearce doesn't rely on farming to make a living, with just six acres of ground in production at 50 West and 350 North, just outside the city limits.

Her concerns are more about damaging a lifestyle she believes is being over-looked just for the betterment of the city.

Her property is a few miles between two of the proposed routes.

"A lot of this I probably won't live to see, but I have children, grandchildren. Great grandchildren. I want them to be able to experience the good country life that I was able to," she said.

The project costing roughly $130 million was outlined Jan. 30 before close to 100 people at the LaPorte Civic Auditorium.

Whether the highway discussed for a half century will actually get built could be known by February of 2019 when an ongoing feasibility study is expected to be completed.

Supporters like Mike Seitz, director of economic development for LaPorte County government, hope so.

"It's a long time coming," Seitz said.

Seitz, former president of the Greater LaPorte Chamber of Commerce, said trucks getting in and out of the downtown quicker could help bring more industrial development and consumers to the central business district by making the downtown more pedestrian friendly.

"People can find places to park without worrying about their mirrors getting torn off by trucks," Seitz said.

Supporters point to Valparaiso and its vibrant user friendly downtown after S.R. 49 was constructed years ago just east of the city, on what can happen here.

Lochmueller Group Inc., with offices in Indianapolis and South Bend, have identified four possible routes all starting at or near Boyd Boulevard beside U.S 35 on the city's south side.

The road would loop around the downtown to the east then north of S.R. 2 at Range Road veer west until reaching the Toll Road at S.R. 39.

Leigh Morris, a former mayor in LaPorte, said lack of such a road is a factor in the longstanding struggles to bring major industrial type development at Kingsbury Industrial Park just five miles south of the city.

A high percentage of the heavy volume of trucks generated there would have to go through the downtown already congested with trucks, said Morris, who's been involved in efforts to fully develop the industrial park.

"The transportation access is not good. It's difficult to get to the interstate highway systems and that's really important to many of the major employers," Morris said.

Morris said the new road would also provide areas for new development to go up along the route.

The study ordered by the LaPorte County government is being paid for with federal dollars.

Financing actual construction has not been secured yet but 80 percent of the cost for construction like this usually is paid for with federal dollars, said David Goffinet of the Lochmueller Group.

Parker said other concerns include farmers being fairly compensated for land that would be acquired to construct the road through imminent domain and taking fertile ground out of production for a growing population.

"Don't forget. Farm ground is an asset too. We're not going to get that back and someday we're going to have to have that to feed people," Parker said.

He's also worried about losing his irrigation system in the path of one of the proposed routes.

"Irrigation guarantees me a crop. It's an insurance policy," Parker said.

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