Hamilton County officials said that one of the most glaring traffic issues in Carmel-Westfield will be rectified in the coming years.
Hamilton County Commissioners Christine Altman and Mark Heirbrandt said Keystone Avenue and 146th Street will be connected. Construction is expected to take place in 2017.
“I’m so excited,” said Altman, a Carmel resident. “It’s one of the best projects we’ve got going.”
Officials said the problem with U.S. 31 is that it causes traffic issues for those utilizing 146th Street, one of the county’s major east-west arteries.
“Right now commuters get stuck and have to go up to 151st Street to get onto Keystone or down to Smokey Row,” Heirbrant said.
“It causes tremendous congestion there,” Altman said. “This gives a lot of people access to go southbound on Keystone.”
Officials said the project would cost an estimated $12 million with $4 million coming from the state. Heirbrandt said the remaining amount would include TIF dollars from Clay Terrace.
“It was a huge deficiency in the U.S. 31 plan,” said Hamilton County Highway Dept. Director Brad Davis. “The state had a limited amount of funds and the option was dropped off at the time. We had to pick it up.”
As part of the project, Altman said the stoplight on Lowes Way will be turned into a roundabout. Officials said the project is already designed and they are working with the City of Carmel to develop a plan.
“It may connect over to Range Line Road for economic development,” Altman said, adding an environmental study will be done. “That’s going to be huge in that area. It’s been high on our radar.”
Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said when he has previously talked about the possibility of the project groups have “stood up and clapped.”
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said it’s important to keep improving Keystone because it will have a positive impact on local businesses. He said that a Shell gas station at the 96th Street intersection closed due to ongoing congestion so he thinks a roundabout interchange – similar to the one at 116th and Keystone – will resolve that problem.
City Council President Rick Sharp, who is running against Brainard in the upcoming election for mayor, said he would want to think carefully about a 96thStreet roundabout interchange. He said businesses such as Ruth’s Chris relocated because there were other business opportunities and it had nothing to do with the roads. He also said that he doesn’t think there’s money available to make sure promises.
“The mayor’s comments really are just campaigning,” he said. “Because the truth of the matter is that there isn’t any credit available for these projects and we haven’t heard any concrete plans on how he plans to pay for these projects. He says that there’s ‘capacity’ but I’m not sure how he plans to pay for this.”
Brainard said there are a number of options to pay for road improvements such as federal funds, bonds and other means. He said that others are being unnecessarily pessimistic about improving Carmel and that he doesn’t want to rest on his laurels. He said the city’s excellent bond rating is proof that these projects can be accomplished.
Sharp said it’s also important to consider how construction can affect local businesses. He said that’s not a reason to not proceed with a project but that there needs to be a plan. He said the “31 Bites” promotion to help struggling businesses during the U.S. 31 construction was only thought up once the damage was already done.
Brainard said you always have to be mindful about how construction affects business which is why you can work on a piece of the project at a time so there’s always a way for people to access the businesses.
“Construction can be difficult but it’s necessary to help a city grow,” he said. “We try to make it work as best as possible and the overall result is going to be great improvement.”[gview file=”https://youarecurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/Keystone_Rangeline_Ramp.pdf”]