By Trevor Wendzonka

Truth Staff

GOSHEN -- The new C.R. 17 to the state line and beyond isn't even finished, but already Elkhart County officials are looking at the next step.

Plans for the portion of road between C.R. 18 and C.R. 26 are about 90 percent approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation, and just three properties are yet to be acquired. Engineer Rick Pharis told the county commissioners this week the project is on schedule for bids to be taken in February.

Construction could begin as soon as April, Pharis said, though some minor issues may delay that start date. Pharis said two landowners chose to settle on an appraised value before taking the issue to court -- but the other three cases may have to be resolved by a judge or jury.

"We still have some right -of-way acquisition issues to resolve, but right now, it's looking good," the engineer said.

C.R. 17 will be a four-lane highway stretching from U.S. 12 near Union to U.S. 6. The commissioners have said they'd like to see the project become a state road eventually, and maybe even run from I-94 in Michigan to U.S. 30 in Indiana.

For now, though, they'll be content with spending a total of $25 million to design, buy land and build the next phase, which is approximately 3 miles long. About $11 million in federal and state funding has been received to help pay the bills, Pharis said.

The rest of the project -- including the "big bridge" over the Elkhart River and U.S. 33, the portion to meet with an eventual south peripheral road in Goshen, and the connector to U.S. 6 -- is slated to be done in the next 10 years if funding can be obtained. Commissioner Phil Stiver said recently he would push for the road to be completed by 2008.

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c2002 The Elkhart Truth