WINFIELD — As Winfield Town Council President Gerald Stiener said, it’s no secret that heavily-traveled 109th Avenue is a big problem and has been one for the county for many years.
Without some additional financial support, Winfield’s portion of the road, which spans from the Lake/Porter county line to Colorado Street, won’t be getting fixed any time soon.
During its recent meeting, the Town Council said it would cost Winfield about $28 million to fix that strip of 109th Avenue. The installation of turn lanes and traffic signals where 109th Avenue intersects with Colorado, Arizona and State streets and Grand Boulevard is just a small portion of what needs to be done.
With an annual budget of $3 million, Stiener said it’s impossible for the town to do this on its own.
“It would take us more than 15 years to fix it. We don’t have 15 years,” Stiener said, adding that the town has been dependent on state Community Crossing Grants to improve roads. “We can’t rely on our CCG funds. It will never get done — not in a timely manner.”
That’s why the council is asking for help.
Town officials recently met with local politicians, including Lake County Commissioner Jerry Tippy, to “brainstorm how we can get money to fund 109th Avenue.”
"The county only has a small piece of 109th Avenue east of Interstate 65 in its inventory, Colorado Street and about a half mile west of the intersection," Tippy said. "This intersection presents a number of problems, including access from Colorado onto 109th, traffic back-ups during rush hour and a vision problem caused by the hilly terrain."
Tippy said county engineers are currently working with both Crown Point and Winfield to "ensure our improvements are consistent with the overall plan" and studying the western most part of 109th Avenue that goes through St. John.
He said county officials are offering to help Winfield receive funding for the road project from other government sources.
In December, a 20-year-old Winfield man died and three other people were injured after a four-vehicle crash near 109th Avenue and Deer Creek Drive. Julian Tinoco died from blunt force trauma, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
Richard Westerhoff, of Cedar Lake, was later arrested with 15 counts linked to the crash, including causing death while driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or more and causing death while driving with a controlled substance in his system following a prior conviction.
Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Chief Jason Gikas said he would like to see the town install pre-emptive warning devices to new stoplights for emergency services to use when needed. Currently, busy intersections like 109th Avenue and Randolph Street do not have such devices, he said.
"The pre-emptive warning device helps to stop cross traffic and clear intersection as an emergency vehicle approaches the intersection rather than when the emergency vehicle is already at the intersection," Gikas said.
Gikas said he believes the problem is the community has outgrown 109th Avenue, and in its current state, the road has presented safety concerns for traffic and firelighters when work is required on the roadway.
Sharing 109th Avenue
An “unfair burden” is being placed solely on Winfield’s residents to fund 109th Avenue improvements, Stiener said, as the road is used by other surrounding communities, including by drivers from Valparaiso, Hebron and Lakes of the Four Seasons, as a way to bypass U.S. 30 to get to the I-65 interchange near Southlake Mall in Merrillville.
Crown Point, which opened the Interstate 65 and 109th Avenue interchange in 2010, is also to blame for the road's heavy traffic flow, Stiener said.
“We are stuck with all this traffic,” he said.
If nothing gets done, Stiener said, traffic analysis shows that by 2039, the average delay time for a driver at the Colorado Street interchange in Winfield will be roughly 18 minutes.
“Doing nothing is not an option. Doing a million dollars at a time is not an option,” Stiener said. “We are going to end up with gridlock out here.”