- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) - A 2-foot width difference in a proposed multiuse trail is creating a speed bump in advancing the city’s State Street Corridor Plan.

City planners, residents and business owners spent more than a year coming up with a road map to improve the corridor in east Columbus.

United Consulting, an Indianapolis-based engineering firm working with the city, drew up cost estimates for two options:

A $1.8 million option calls for sidewalk and intersection improvements and pocket parks along State Street.

A second plan, with more elaborate improvements, would cost the city an estimated $6.9 million and calls for a 10-foot urban trail, similar to the cultural trail in Indianapolis, in addition to sidewalk and intersection improvements.

Intersection improvements in both options would be made where State Street meets Central Avenue, Second Street and Third Street. But the broader vision also includes sidewalk enhancements and a new urban trail that would run parallel to State Street.

But building that 10-foot trail would require narrowing one or more lanes on State Street, also known as Indiana 46, which is controlled by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

City Engineer Beth Fizel and two engineers with United Consulting told city councilmen Tuesday night that while INDOT is willing to add sidewalks to its resurfacing project, the state agency does not want to narrow traffic lanes or let the city direct a state resurfacing project.

INDOT has never given funding to a local public agency to do any work for the state agency, and it shies away from setting such a precedent, Fizel told The Republic (https://bit.ly/1r1fkIa ).

The state’s plans to resurface State Street do not include the city’s broader plans to revitalize the area surrounding the highway.

“We are looking to work with the city and coordinate the design of these two projects,” said Harry Maginity, a spokesman for the state agency, referring to the city and state components.

Maginity explained the city would hire its own contractor and have a project engineer on site from a consulting firm. Meanwhile, INDOT would have its own project supervisor and contractor, he said.

And while the project engineers would consult with each other and both projects would take place in tandem, State Road 46 would remain under the domain of INDOT, he said.

“That is our highway,” Maginity said.

Now, Fizel and United Consulting are asking the city to decide within the next two weeks whether it wants to pay United Consulting about $300,000 for engineering work to help implement the reduced-scope city plan for the corridor.

That would allow United Consulting to get to work and meet a November deadline to implement the scaled-back proposal into INDOT’s plans, said Jeromy Richardson, a project team leader with the firm.

Coordinating with INDOT would make both city and state dollars go further, Fizel said.

Mayor Kristen Brown said because the contract with United Consulting would be less than $500,000, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, which the mayor presides over, could approve the contract without triggering the need for city council approval.

But Brown said she still was hoping for some kind of consensus from the council, since it would be required to approve funding for either of the two options that United Consulting presented, or for an alternative between the two.

The suggested two-week approval window presents a tight deadline, councilman Frank Jerome said.

Jerome, who also is vice president of the city’s redevelopment commission, said while council members are supportive of the project, the two-week time frame puts a lot of pressure on the city and could hinder prudent planning.

“It’s like we’re late to the game,” Jerome said.

Julie Aton, who owns Aton’s Self-Storage on State Street, said while she’s thrilled that the city has gotten the ball rolling, she’s concerned with the speed of the implementation. Aton was part of a committee that helped develop the corridor plan, and she now serves as treasurer of the State Street Area Association.

“We don’t want to slow down progress,” Aton said. “But we don’t want to see things done hastily.”

Councilman Ryan Brand said the council needs time to digest the new developments. Meanwhile, the city needs to try to identify whether or not the more extensive plan is even an option at this point, Brand said.

So while city officials ponder during the next two weeks, United Consulting will reach out to INDOT to see if it can persuade state transportation officials to change their minds, firm president Dave Richter said.

Brand said since Richter told the council INDOT is not inclined to budge regarding such suggestions, it seems like the firm’s $6.9 million plan is “a project we wish we could do,” but might not be able to.

If INDOT’s answer on the lane narrowing remains no, Richter said the city then could decide to partner with INDOT and implement the firm’s $1.8 million proposal. But there needs to be some action taken within the next two weeks, he said, if the city wants to hire the firm.

The lower-cost proposal still would allow for sidewalk improvements, three pocket parks and intersection improvements - all of which The Lakota Group, a Chicago-based design and planning group, helped develop.

However, it would not include an extension of the People Trails, also identified as a top priority.


Information from: The Republic, https://www.therepublic.com/

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