HAMMOND | Construction on a $30 million upgrade to Chicago Street is likely to begin in 2015 as the city seeks to improve the safety and mobility of the heavy truck route.
Plans call for the reconstruction and widening of about two miles of former Ind. 312, which the city took over from the state in 2011, along Gostlin Street, Sheffield Avenue and Chicago Street.
The project also will require property acquisition, though the exact buildings won't be known until plans are finalized.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. told a packed room gathered for a public meeting on the project at Hammond City Hall on Tuesday that he understands some property owners will be adversely impacted but stressed the project's need.
McDermott called the project a “game changer” because of the improvements it will make to an older portion of the city.
“There are a lot of buildings that are targeted in the path of the new road. I'm not going to deny that, and it's not an easy decision,” McDermott said.
“Obviously, some of them are going to be homes. Some of them are blighted buildings that are going to come down and it's not going to bug anybody.
“What we do know we have to make way for semi traffic that comes through our city on 312, comes from Gostlin and heads down to Chicago and heads out of the city. We're trying to do that in the safest manner possible.”
Evelyn Garcia is one Hammond resident expecting her home to be acquired. Garcia, who has lived at the corner of Chicago Street and Sheffield Avenue for 20 years, bought the home, in part, because of its proximity to the Hammond South Shore Line station.
“It will pretty much change our lives,” Garcia said.
But Garcia said she's happy the city is doing the project because of the number of accidents she's seen in her years living at the intersection.
Improvements would begin at the intersection of Gostlin Street and South Brainard Avenue, continue south on Sheffield and then go east on Chicago Street up to White Oak Avenue.
The current route has a number of safety issues, with 86 accidents per year, said Glen Campbell, a senior project manager for American Structurepoint.
Portions of the road have very wide lanes and a review of accident reports showed a number of cars side-swiping trucks as they attempted to pass, Campbell said.
The route also carries 20,000 vehicles per day and can force trucks to stop to make 90-degree turns.
One option being explored to help traffic flow is creating roundabouts at the intersections of Sheffield Avenue and Gostlin Street and Hohman Avenue and Chicago Street.
“(Roundabouts) are great at reducing the severity of accidents at intersections and eliminating the t-bones you see out there,” Campbell said.
Hammond has received nearly $19 million in federal and state funding for the project and has applied for an additional $9.5 million from the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, City Engineer Stan Dostatni said.
Last year, the Hammond City Council also approved taking out a $16 million loan to provide local funding for a number of road projects, including Chicago Street. The loan will be repaid through gaming revenue.