By STAN MADDUX
LA PORTE, Ind. — Protecting farmers is a high priority if a four-lane divided highway choked with intersections, traffic lights and driveways is converted into a limited access freeway.
A complete revamp of U.S. Highway 30 decades in the discussion stage appears to be moving closer to reality for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT). Farmers along the highway at both ends of northern Indiana are hoping the improvements won’t interfere with use of their properties.
“We need to have a voice at that table for sure, to make sure our farmers aren’t hamstringed from cutting their farm in half,” said Rich Mrozinski, president of the LaPorte County commissioners.
Seven of the eight counties U.S. 30 runs through already have a voice to try to minimize inconvenience to farmers and other landowners. Porter, LaPorte, Starke, Marshall, Kosciusko, Whitley and Allen counties have formed a coalition to push for the upgrades and help shape the proposed limited access freeway presently in the design and engineering phase.
Except in heavily populated areas like Valparaiso to the west and Fort Wayne to the east, both sides of the highway consist mostly of farmland.
Mrozinski and other supporters of agriculture want faster and safer travel, but not farmers having to travel several miles to get from one parcel to the other as a result of their acreage being split and highway crossings taken away. He said farming should be accommodated, as are factories and other more traditional types of industry.
”Farming is a huge business in Indiana. We need to recognize that,” Mrozinski said.
Bob Yoder, an educator with the extension office in Marshall County, said another concern is farmers getting paid just the value of any land acquired for the improvements. He said compensation to landowners should include inconvenience caused by the project.
“You may have to drive four miles from where you used to cross or more,” he noted.
According to INDOT, the 30,000 or so vehicles traveling U.S. 30 daily is projected to increase to 38,000 by 2035. More than 30 percent of the vehicles now are semi trucks.
In Kosciusko County alone, there are 17 intersections, 12 stoplights and 34 driveway cuts on U.S. 30, according to INDOT. There are 10 intersections, two stoplights, 78 driveway cuts and one railroad crossing on U.S. 30 in LaPorte County.
A limited access freeway would eliminate many of the barriers impeding traffic flow and causing motor vehicle accidents. Farmers, though, use many of the intersections to reach their properties across the highway.
Yoder said one way to reduce land acquisition and splitting parcels is to keep the freeway on the current footprint of the highway. No matter how it gets done, some farmers will almost certainly be impacted by having fewer crossings, he said.
He fully expects agriculture to be at the table once the plans move further along in the process, to push for any changes felt necessary in the design. “We’re a major economic development force that deserves that spot,” he said.
INDOT spokesman Adam Parkhouse said a recent 35 percent cost increase for semis using the Indiana Toll Road will help fund $1 billion of infrastructure improvements statewide. Some of those monies are earmarked for safety and efficiency upgrades to U.S. 30 within the next five years.
He said that work has nothing to do with a freeway and, although there have been talks of a total revamping of the highway, nothing has been set in stone.