Milling work

Niblock Excavating crews mill asphalt off Main Street at Mitchell Street in downtown Kendallville in this file photo from July. Repaving work on Main Street was part of Kendallville’s 2020 Community Crossings grant award. This fall, 22 communities in six northeast Indiana counties received grants.

INDIANAPOLIS — Northeast Indiana cashed in in a big way on Wednesday, with more than $13.5 million in state Community Crossings road work grants given to six counties in the region.

In total, 23 local government in LaGrange, Steuben, Noble, DeKalb, Whitley and Allen counties received grants in the second disbursement of 2021, with a grand total of $13,526,989.40.

The state disbursed $101.9 million total in this round of funding, meaning the six local counties took about 13% of the pot.

Allen County led local counties in terms of dollar amount, receiving about $2.75 million across four recipients, but Noble County was close behind with six local agencies awarded $2.735 million

DeKalb County followed at $2.2 million, followed by LaGrange County at $2.13 million, Whitley County with $1.95 million and Steuben County at $1.67 million.

"Community Crossings is one of the most important tools available to our local partners to support their efforts to improve local roads and bridges,” Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness said. “Rebuilding and improving local roads, while also addressing safety needs, promotes growth and enhances the business environment and quality of place across Indiana.”

Community Crossings grants are typically doled out twice per year, with communities eligible to receive up to $1 million per year, every year since the program's founding in 2016. Rural communities have to provide a 25% match toward their award amount, while larger counties and municipalities have a 50/50 matching requirement.

“Community Crossings continues to have a transformative effect on communities across Indiana" Gov. Eric Holcomb said. "The partnership between the state and local governments is empowering Hoosier cities, towns and counties to invest more and take on bigger projects than ever before to modernize their local transportation systems to meet the demand of our growing economy.”

In this disbursement, three small towns — Fremont, Topeka and Churubusco each received a full $1 million award, as well as Fort Wayne also receiving $1 million. Noble County received a $500,000 grant but had also received $500,000 in the spring disbursement, giving the county highway another full $1 million award this year.

"This is great news for our community and we could not be happier to be recipients of the $1,000,000 Community Crossings grant. Even though the Town Council budgets $250,000 annually to go toward street projects, if would take us years to repair and pave the streets without the Community Crossing grant," said Fremont Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Parsons. "We are so thankful and appreciative that this grant is available through the state and hope they continue with the program."

Other large awards went to Columbia City, $954,247.50; New Haven, $815,604.42; DeKalb County, $813,428.77; Albion, $779,475 and Angola, $666,558.75.

The other communities awarded included LaGrange, Shipshewana, Avilla, Kendallville, Rome City, Ligonier, Auburn, St. Joe, Garrett, Butler, Ashley, Allen County and Leo-Cedarville.

DeKalb County's $813,428.77 will go toward resurfacing projects on three major and minor connectors within the county. Work will be focused on C.R. 56 from C.R. 35 to C.R. 51 and C.R. 64 from S.R. 1 to S.R. 101. Those two projects total almost 6 miles of roadway.

"The binder and surface overlay projects should gain us a lot of longevity on those roads," said Ben Parker, DeKalb County Highway Superintendent.

A short 0.32 mile section on C.R. 60 by Riverdale Elementary School will also receive resurfacing.

Parker said he is thankful for the grant monies from the state, which helps to protect the longevity of miles of roadway within the county.

Fremont's grant will be used for work on Swager Road, east of Feather Valley Road to West Street; Spring Haven Drive, north of Hope Street; Sierer Street, from Albion Street to Toledo Street; and Albion Street from Tillitson Street to Sheppard Street.

In Albion, its large grant will pay for reconstruction of roads, curbing and sidewalk on East Hazel Street from First Street to Fifth Street. The project also could also do similar work on Liberty Street from Main Street to Washington Street.

Street Department Superintendent Corey Miller said work on Liberty Street will be dependent on the costs of the East Hazel Street project. Miller said the grant monies provided are key.

"They're very important," Miller said. "It would take us years to fund a project like this."

Kendallville's award was actually smaller than expected, which, upon further investigation, turned out due to an error in how the package was submitted to the state.

City engineer Scott Derby said he had applied for a full $1 million for work on 22 street segments and had them compiled into a single spreadsheet. But when the paperwork was submitted as a PDF, the last 15 columns got cut off, resulting in the city getting awarded for the first seven roads, totaling about $315,000.

Derby said he'll be submitting the other streets in spring 2022, which, if awarded, would still allow Kendallville to bid them out for construction next summer.

"Even if they were all awarded right now, it wouldn't be built until next summer anyway, so it won't affect construction," Derby said.

Mark Eagleson, the LaGrange town manager said LaGrange was awarded $600,000 that will be used to help rebuild about six blocks of Union Street.

The town plans to rebuild the road, curbs, sidewalks, and storm sewer lines. In addition, the town will be updating sewer and water lines.

Eagleson said he expects to start bidding out the project just after the first of the year and construction could start next spring.

In Shipshewana, the town will be using $532,500 it received to repair and rebuild road surfaces, curbs, and sidewalks of several smaller residential streets in the town's northwest corner. Town Manager Bob Shanahan said as long as the town is making those repairs, it will also be replacing some aging utilities, and paying for that work separately.

Three local governments were also among the 11 communities who were denied funding this time. Clear Lake in Steuben County was rejected because it had not yet closed out its 2019 grant, Huntertown was passed over because its asset management plan is outdated, and Whitley County had errors in its application, leading to a no from the state.

Butler will use the $159,474 it received for work on a number of street sections, City Planner Steve Bingham said.

St. Joe plans to use the $82,614.93 it received toward repairs of School Street between C.R. 60 and Jefferson Street, and Jefferson between Spencer and 4th streets, Clerk-Treasurer Angela Snyder said.

District 82 Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, said he was once again pleased to see northeast Indiana win big from the grant awards, as the state money is helping to seriously boost road quality in the region.

"I think its fantastic. It's unbelievable really, how much we all got, how many communities participated and got on board with having an asset management plan," Abbott said. "That shows how much everyone has realized this money comes from the gas tax can help communities."

District 52 Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, agreed with Abbott saying he is pleased to see the communities in his district receiving state funding.

"We made a commitment to our infrastructure in 2016," Smaltz said. "We said we are going to pay for it as we go and not saddle our children and grandchildren with the debt like the federal government."

Since its launch, Community Crossings has provided rural communities, and even larger communities, too, with more resources to do big capital projects that are otherwise difficult to afford due to the limitations on inflow of road dollars in a normal budget. Now, even small towns with just a few miles of road inventory can leverage $1 and get $3 back from the state, allowing them to be more proactive in road maintenance, Abbott said.

"Without those grants, we'd be depending on our budget and our budgets, I don't want to say frozen ... but that doesn't allow for the big capital expenditures," Abbott said. "This allows them to reach out and capture up to $1 million dollars in some cases per year, which is incredible amounts of money compared to what their typical budget is."

Smaltz said he continues to see the difference in the quality of roads in northeast Indiana. He compared Indiana's roadways to those he recently traveled in a return trip from our neighboring state Michigan.

He said you could definitely tell the difference when you hit the state line.

"It is important to maintain what we have," he said. "I think Indiana has done a fantastic job of getting the job done and improving the roads."

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