A group of neighbors, worried about road closings due to the expansion of Capital Avenue, have filed a lawsuit contending the law creating the highway is unconstitutional.
A total of 53 neighbors, representing about 30 of the 77 households in the Creston Hills subdivision, filed the suit last week in an effort to stop two road closings they say violate the state’s fire code.
Creston Hills, located south of Mishawaka near the Capital Avenue and U.S. 20 bypass interchange, is a quiet rural neighborhood where three streets — Ireland, Hill and Crescent — currently exit onto Capital Avenue.
But two of those streets — Hill and Creston — could be closed as early as next week as part of the Capital Avenue expansion project, which will turn the two-lane road into a four-lane highway.
Residents who live in Creston Hills worry that limiting their traffic to one access point — especially the less than 16-foot wide Ireland Road — will make it impossible for emergency vehicles to respond, especially in inclement weather or during high-traffic periods.
“The hope is to get an injunction to keep Hill Street open until an acceptable resolution can be achieved,” said Chuck Perry, one of the Creston Hills residents listed as a plaintiff in the suit.
But an acceptable resolution could be years in the making.
Originally, the Capital Avenue project called for the creation of a new access road connecting the subdivision with Dragoon Trail, north of the subdivision, which would have also required rebuilding the subdivision’s Culp Road, which is currently too narrow for two-way traffic.
But the plan was changed in 2011 by INDOT, although neighbors say they were given no reason for the change.
Another possible option to ease traffic concerns in the neighborhood would be to allow one of the neighborhood streets to exit on to Capital — but that option is currently illegal under the Indiana law that created the Capital Avenue expansion, and has been a source of controversy in the past.
State Rep. Craig Fry, D- Mishawaka, who authored the Capital Avenue legislation, has previously pushed back against attempts to change what he originally envisioned as a limited-access highway into a traffic-congested mess.
“This region does not need another Grape Road or Main Street where stoplights are plentiful and traffic is at a standstill,” Fry wrote in a letter to INDOT in March, after neighbors suggested that an additional curb cut along the road could solve some of their traffic problems. “Legislation was passed to limit the number of stoplights and curb cuts on Capital Avenue so that this limited access highway could provide a smooth flow of traffic and retain its original intent.”
But in their lawsuit, the neighbors argue the law limiting curb cuts is unconstitutional because it places special restrictions on Capital Avenue, when the state already has a general law concerning limited-access highways.
A similar argument was used by the city of Mishawaka and Memorial Hospital in a lawsuit against INDOT in 2010, to create an access point near the Toll Road interchange.
Of greater concern to residents, however, is whether emergency vehicles can gain access to the neighborhood.
“If INDOT closes the intersection of Hill Street and Capital Avenue, there will be no access road into Creston Hills that is wide enough to comply with Indiana’s Fire Code,” the lawsuit says.
But whose responsibility it is to widen the neighborhood’s roads — INDOT or St. Joseph County, which has jurisdiction of the neighborhoods roads — has already been debated, with no clear answer given.
Matt Deitchley, media relations director for INDOT’s LaPorte District, said the state has been trying to find a resolution to residents’ concerns for some time.
“Their complaint is in the process of being addressed, as was the status before the lawsuit was filed,” Deitchley said in an e-mail. “Until that occurs, INDOT will not be commenting on the specific issues being litigated.”
In the meantime, residents are more concerned with keeping at least two of the neighborhood’s roads open until a solution can be found — and are hoping St. Joseph County Judge Michael Scopelitis will issue a temporary order as early as this week to keep the roads open until a permanent solution can be found.
Staff writer Dave Stephens: