ALBION — A proposal to make substantial safety improvements to a sharp curve on a Ligonier-area road where a family of three died earlier this year is ready to be submitted in an effort to get grant funding for the fixes.
On Monday, Noble County Highway Department engineer Zack Smith went over an engineering report for improvements at the curve where Ball Road meets C.R. 700W, estimated to cost $1.41 million.
In February, a car driven by JJ Reyes, 50, of Ligonier, slid off the snow-covered curve and into the Elkhart River. The vehicle flipped and filled with water. Reyes and his two daughters, Zulia Reyes, 15, and Valeria Reyes, 13 — were pronounced dead after the overturned vehicle was pulled out of the water.
“This and other roadside safety elements do not comply with current standards,” Smith’s report states. “The purpose of this project is to improve the horizontal alignment geometrics and improve the safety features within the project area.”
Both Ball Road and C.R. 700W are low-volume rural roads with an unposted speed limit of 55 mph, although vehicles have to slow substantially in order to safely make the approximately 90-degree turn. Both roads have an average daily traffic volume of less than 150 vehicles.
Although there’s not a lot of traffic in the area, there is a pattern of vehicles struggling to take the curve in winter.
“Since 2014, there have been a total of four reported crashes at this location. This location is not a high-crash location due to the relatively low volume of traffic, but the pattern of crashes is apparent. All four of these crashes involve a single vehicle traveling southbound on a snow-covered roadway that end up losing control and running off the roadway. A high percentage of these crashes ended up partially or totally in the river,” Smith’s report states.
Six possible proposals are included, with the preferred being a dual curve realignment that would soften the curve and move it farther from the river.
“The alignment of Ball Road would be relocated north away from the Elkhart River improving roadside safety. The larger horizontal curve radius will make the roadway much easier to navigate and improve stopping sight distances around the curve. This lateral shift away from the river will remove it as a near roadside hazard or the need for riverbank slope improvements,” the report describes.
The improvements are estimated to cost approximately $1.41 million, with $1.03 million for construction and approximately $380,000 for engineering, right-of-way purchase and utility relocation.
Since the project would be rather expensive, Smith will be applying for a grant that would pay 80 percent of the cost. While the grant would fund most of the project, it would also put the improvements on a lengthy timeline — funding wouldn’t be available until fiscal year 2025, which means the soonest construction could begin would be summer 2024.
The highway department will, however, be making some minor elevation adjustments in the area, which should help to prevent vehicles from going off the road in the short term.
“With a project of this scope, they could potentially shorten the schedule if money is available,” Smith said. “There were some improvements we’re going to short-term. We’re going to be making some elevation improvements on the curve.”
Commissioners had no changes to suggest to the plan, so Smith said he will finalize the report and submit it for the next grant cycle.