La PORTE — The La Porte City Council revisited the concerns for a proposed overpass that may be constructed on Tipton Street during Monday's meeting. During the public comment portion of the meeting, the project was met with general disapproval from many participating.
Detroit Street business owner Larry Bannwart originally brought the project to light during the July 1 council meeting. This had been the first mention of the project to the public and some of the City Council members.
According to the grant application, the project is described as, “Roadway improvements from approximately the intersection of Tipton Street and State Street to the intersection of Park Street and Furnace Street and grade separation improvements over the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Additional improvements include the construction of an access road from Furnace Street to approximately Linwood Avenue and closure of at-grade crossings at Pulaski Street and Detroit Street.”
Submitted with the grant application were several recommendation letters signed by public officials including Indiana 2nd District U.S Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-South Bend; State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie; and La Porte Mayor Mark Krentz. Rick Crawford, director of Public Projects on behalf of Norfolk Southern, and Bert Cook executive director of the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corp., also submitted their recommendations. All of the letters mention the issue of safety are dated from August 2018.
The closure of the crossings at Detroit and Pulaski streets was a major point of contention for members of the public and some members of the council. La Porte City Engineer Nicholas Minich explained at the July 1 meeting that the closures were included in coordination with Norfolk Southern, who recommended that the grant would be more likely to get accepted with that contingency.
Bannwart told the audience that he has been doing his own research on the intricacies of the project. He gave the public some insight into his findings.
“When INDOT scores a crossing, one of the things they [look at] is the last five of incidents and they come up with a predicted accident rate,” he said.
Bannwart said, according to his research, there hadn’t been any incidents on either crossing in not only the last five years, but the last 50.
“We’ve had [someone] killed at Tyler Street, we’ve had a train go through a truck at Boston Street just this past January,” Bannwart said. "My point is, you’re closing the crossing that’s never had an issue for safety concerns."
After public comment closed, Councilman Timothy Stabosz called Minich to the podium to clarify whether or not the primary reason for the closures was to maximize the city’s chances at having the grant application accepted.
“I don’t think that that was the primary reason, I think it was a factor in how the overall program was developed for the grant application," Minich said. "When we looked at all of the alternatives, one of the factors being Norfolk Southern was actively engaged in other grant applications and had a very good hold on the types of projects that they felt were going to be very successful, and they encouraged it.”
Councilman Joe Mrozinske gave his thoughts, “Here’s my concern, being an At-Large I have to look at the whole city. We are putting a lot of our efforts into NewPorte Landing. I agree it’s important and I fully support it. I’m all for it. I do believe that if our population numbers were a little higher, I think people would be looking at us. We’re close to a census year and if we can get our numbers over 25K, I think we’ll have businesses looking at us, as opposed to us having to spend a lot of effort researching them. What I do not want to see is kill the west end of town.”
Minich responded to Mrozinske, “This is not a NewPorte Landing only project. This is about creating an adequate corridor for residents to drive through the City of La Porte. When folks say that the Pole Town neighborhood is going to be cut off, it’s completely inaccurate. They’re going to have an overpass where they don’t have to be at the mercy of the railroad. We have no local control of those areas. This overpass is an opportunity to take some of that [control] back and be able to say, ‘our residents deserve a safe, reliable way to get to the north side to the south side of the city.’”