Imagine traffic whizzing by even with your second-floor windows nine feet up. Imagine the state taking so much of your front yard that you could just about touch passing motorists. Contemplate how your front yard would become little more than a collection bin for the debris idiots toss from their windows as the speed by. Traffic would dominate your life. Try to envision what it would be like to be eye-to-eye with a growing number of semi drivers from your second floor window. A long-time resident on State Boulevard made that point last night to a full house at city council. In a few years the house would be worthless, abandoned and taxpayers would have to pay to remove it.
The State of Indiana and its lesser agencies have a plan which is endorsed by the Henry Administration. The plan will raise the road bed on State Boulevard between Clinton and Wells. It will add lanes and straighten the curve where Spy Run Creek floods by every spring. It is a complex, multi-million dollar project that many of the residents along State don’t want…and other residents fronting and in adjacent neighborhoods do very much want.
Last night, opponent of the plan, Councilman John Shoaff wrangled the opponents with the help of activist Michelle Briggs Wedeman. On the other side, the city, in the persona of City Engineer Shan Gunawardeena brought forth their supporters to try to sway one or two votes on city council for or against the massive project. There are probably four votes against proceeding and two or three staunch votes to go ahead.
Some 16 people voiced their concerns last night during “open-mic” time. Half were in favor, half opposed. Of the 16 many offered stories of drivers flipping cars, crashing against front porches and plowing through front yards. They spoke of 16-wheelers increasingly using their street to make deliveries or just short cut from somewhere to Clinton or Lafayette. They spoke of the flooding, the soaked basements, the many water heaters ruined and their rising insurance premiums. The spoke of the uncertainty of whether to sell of sit tight.
Some also expressed anger with the city for “imposing” a solution on them without full neighborhood involvement. Others said the city bent over backwards to solicit their thoughts. All but one speaker remained cordial throughout their speeches, and all but one council member remained silent as the parade of concerned citizens came and went.
Councilman Tom Didier interrupted the comments of one citizen to “correct” what he thought to be false information. He was silenced by his fellow council members. Later, in council “open-mic” he offered a passioned overview of his feelings in the matter, including a recitation of growing up at Crescent and State, working at Pio’s Market and frequenting the likes of Buschbaum Drugs.
Interestingly, he offered one solution during his rambling monologue: better signage. While saying truck traffic is an inevitable part of life on State he added that the State had failed to adequately mark the intersection of Goshen and Coliseum. The result, he later added, is that hundreds of big rigs follow US 30 straight down Goshen Road, rather than making the turn onto Coliseum. He recounted the story of the restaurant owner at the Liberty Diner who had would watch helplessly as semi after semi would use his parking lot to turn around, only to knock down parts of his facade and sideswiped parked cars.
The discussion emanates from two points: flooding and the 2030 Transportation Plan. The plan calls for Goshen and State to relieve some of the heavy traffic on Coliseum Boulevard. Flooding on Spy Run Creek is endemic. Every year since Glenbrook and Northcrest and the acres of parking lots on the north side water has rapid drained down curbs, into to sewers, through creeks and filled Spy Run Creek to overflowing. In the last decade homes have been removed and the city has decided that, instead of attacking the problem at the source that the people along Spy Run Creek would bear the burden. Houses have been removed and families forced to relocate. These days most new additions have retention ponds to hold heavy rains in order to slowly release the deluge into streets to avoid flooding. In the maze of roofs and parking lots and fast drainage systems on the north side around Northcrest and Glenbrook there are precious few retention ponds and there is hardly a green space where rains can soak into the ground. Drainage systems rush the water to streams and creeks and the rivers causing constant flooding.
So, to alleviate flooding the city (and state) wishes to remove houses and to dramatically raise the road bed. It seems overkill.
Councilman Shoaff is pushing a resolution to reexamine the project. Shan Gunawardeena is pushing to push forward with the project. It seems there is no consensus on what to do, certainly none among the residents who will be most affected by the project, so that alone suggests that the project should be reexamined. Both will be working for the two or three votes they need to support their course of action.
Engineer Gunawardeena might borrow from the successes of Rudisill Boulevard’s “traffic calming” of a few years back, a project in which he was involved. Four lanes were reduced to three and traffic still moves very smoothly. Noise has been reduced and hot-rodding is down. The surrounding neighborhoods are quite pleased with the results. He might also work with the State to improve signage and lane markings at Goshen and Coliseum so that fewer 18-wheelers find themselves wandering down State in search of a truck route rattling windows in the process. He might add a few pedestrian crossing lights to make it safer for humans to cross state and remove a few traffic lights to smooth the flow of traffic. One councilman lamented the 2030 Plan is already out-of-date and traffic patterns have changed to the point where State is returning to a neighborhood street, albeit with heavy local traffic. Coliseum and 469 are where the heavy traffic should be. A citizen suggested improvements to Coliseum to aid the flow. In two weeks we shall know.
Tax abatement policy was also front and center last night. Russ Jehl who has been leading efforts to reform the lax system announced that a draft of changes would soon circulate for council and public review. He noted that of the handful of abatements passed last night the one that created the most jobs had scored the least number of “points” in the current city system of proposal evaluation, but the one that had created but one new job had scored the highest. He said the new rules would put job creation as the highest priority. The point is simple: tax abatements should not add to an investor’s bottom line, nor subsidize purchase of equipment made in China or Germany. Abatements should work as initially intended, to create jobs, especially in less attractive areas of town. Mr. Jehl should be commended for his work. As loudly as everyone else in America is clamoring for jobs, jobs, jobs, he seems to be the one in local government who gets it.