Reconstruction of U.S. 31 at the 116th,111th and 106th streets intersections isn’t slated to begin until 2015, but some Carmel residents are already foreseeing “a nightmare.”
Construction of Illinois Street between 116th and 111th streets is ongoing, likely opening by the end of this summer. But plans to extend the road even farther south, intersecting with Spring Mill Road, are currently on hold. Carmel officials are battling whether the city can afford to build the multi-million dollar extension before the INDOT begins work on U.S. 31.
With U.S. 31 bottlenecking to one lane in either direction during construction, the extended Illinois Street is seen by many as an integral siphoning point for traffic.
“We promised the completion of Illinois Street,” City Councilor Eric Seidensticker said recently. “Traffic is going to be reduced on U.S. 31, so there have got to be relief valves in place and ready to go. A finished, four-lane Illinois Street is a relief valve; two-lane Spring Mill Road isn’t.”
With Keystone Parkway set to serve as the official detour for U.S. 31, Mayor Jim Brainard was optimistic the four-lane Pennsylvania Street and two-lane Spring Mill Road on either side of the major highway would be able to handle the overflow traffic. But at least one resident disputes that.
RJ Gerard, who lives in the Park Meadow neighborhood at 136th Street and Spring Mill Road, called the scenario “a nightmare.”
“We have experienced this sort of thing in the past when Carmel was installing the roundabouts,” Gerard said. “The ripple effect of the traffic made morning and evening commutes just dreadful. The road is maxed out right now, in terms of what it can handle traffic-wise. With more cars it will become unusable. I am already planning alternative routes.”
Brainard said he’d like to build the second phase of Illinois Street, but there just isn’t money in the budget due to higher-than-anticipated land acquisition costs.
“Illinois is important to build at some point,” Brainard said, adding that repaving existing city streets takes priority at this time. “INDOT and our engineering department are in contact weekly, if not more. They just don’t want anything to interfere with their construction.”
City Council President Rick Sharp claims the mayor is playing a game of political poker with the state.
“The mayor has had several conversations with INDOT, and he’s using Illinois Street as a trump card in hopes of getting extra money from the state to build it,” Sharp said. “But it’s not INDOT’s responsibility to get the road built, it’s Carmel’s.”
Riggs said the city and state were in contact regarding construction particulars, but declined to take a stance on the need to finish Illinois Street.
Brainard hopes the nearby Bridges development – an anticipated $100-million mix of retail, office and residential apartments developed by Tom Crowley – would generate enough property tax revenue to build the road in the future. Crowley didn’t return a phone message seeking an update on the project.
Initial estimates had construction costs coming in around $7 million. Sharp claims that number may go down to $4 million, based on conversations with city engineer Mike McBride, but Brainard said he hadn’t heard that new number. McBride hadn’t responded to a voice mail seeking comment by publication time.
Sharp said he and other councilors are pouring through the city’s budget trying to find the needed cash. He urged the city to put out bid requests immediately so the project doesn’t fall behind.
“It’s just a matter of will,” Sharp said. “If the will’s there, things will get done.”