The intersection of Indiana 9 and U.S. 30 is one of the main problems areas in Columbia City. Staff photo by Nicole Minier
The intersection of Indiana 9 and U.S. 30 is one of the main problems areas in Columbia City. Staff photo by Nicole Minier
COLUMBIA CITY — Drive on U.S. 30 through Columbia City or Warsaw during rush hour and you will likely understand why local officials are pushing for updates to the highway.

Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel, along with other local and regional officials, have been working with the Indiana Department of Transportation for several years in an attempt to nail down a plan for the highway, which runs from the Ohio state line to the Chicago area, passing through Fort Wayne, Columbia City, Warsaw, Plymouth, Wanatah and other municipal areas — with traffic counts similar to I-69 — but a much different highway structure.

U.S. 30 is considered to be a free-flow highway, meaning that there are not stoplights at every intersection, such as at county roads, but there are stoplights through higher-traffic areas. U.S. 30 is outgrowing this structure, however.

It is not uncommon to see traffic at the intersection of S.R. 9 and U.S. 30 backed up for a mile to the east during high-traffic times. This creates safety and functionality issues, as U.S. 30 is used by many area industries as a means for moving product.

“We have a transportation issue on U.S. 30,” Daniel said.

The state INDOT office has Columbia City’s section of U.S. 30 on a tentative list for improvements — but not for another 20 years — after repairs and other projects are completed in other areas.

“… which is absolutely unacceptable,” Daniel said. “When we have interstate statistics going through the Columbia City limits, we had a really strong discussion with INDOT to explain that the need is real and it’s not 20 years down the road.”

There is some hope for improvement, however, as the regional INDOT office is looking to receive funding — from a separate pool of money — for S.R. 9 and S.R. 109 improvements within the next five years.

“I think we have a little bit of an advocate in Fort Wayne for some of the major issues,” Daniel said.

Every year, the regional office puts in projects that compete against each other for funding, and Columbia City is likely in the plan for 2024.

At the intersections of S.R. 9 and S.R. 109, the plan is to create an interchange at S.R. 9 and either send S.R. 109 over or under U.S. 30, eliminating some of the most “problem” spots.

Daniel argues that U.S. 30 has a larger need than some other projects around the state.

“It’s clear there’s a need. This is more of a need than S.R. 50 in southern Indiana. It’s more expensive, but U.S. 30 is an economic engine,” Daniel said. “I try hard to advocate, but at the end of the day there are finite resources.”

The state recently implemented a gas tax and made a deal to earn more from the toll roads, but most of that money isn’t being used for major improvements, such as the U.S. 30 project.

“The gas tax hike was to maintain what we have, finish what we started and build for the future,” Daniel said. “Those are the three priorities. The challenge we have is, they talk a lot about maintaining and finishing, but that third leg isn’t talked about a whole lot. I could be wrong, but I’ll tell you, the only reason we’re having these discussions is because of the toll road money.”

Daniel and other local officials are continuing to work at a local and regional level to push for projects that are best for the communities.

“I think it’s important for people to know that we’re continuing to fight to bring their tax dollars back to U.S. 30 improvements in Columbia City and Whitley County.”

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