If you were counting down the years, months and days until work started on a project to fix backups and traffic headaches at one of Greenwood’s busiest intersections, you’ll need to be patient.
A project to improve the traffic flow at State Road 135 and Smith Valley Road has been pushed back at least a year after the cost of the project came in at double what was expected.
Now, the city has returned $1.8 million in state and federal grants for the project and plans to reapply and ask for more money. The city has no guarantee it will get any money, and if it does, the project will be pushed back to 2020.
“We didn’t want to give back the funding, but there really wasn’t much of an alternative,” city engineer Mark Richards said.
The intersection, which gets more than 18,000 vehicles per day, is one of the city’s busiest, and officials are now looking for other ways to pay for the project to improve traffic flow, Richards said.
More than a year ago, the city began planning a project that would add a roundabout on either side of State Road 135 on Smith Valley Road, Richards said.
Instead of going into a left-turn lane and waiting for an arrow, you would cross State Road 135, go around a roundabout on the other side, come back to the intersection with Smith Valley Road and then make a right turn. And that was expected to significantly help with backups because it would eliminate left turns onto State Road 135 from either side of Smith Valley Road, leading to fewer backups at stop lights from cars waiting to turn.
Original estimates were that the project would cost about $3.6 million, and the city planned to pay for half the cost.
But the city decided to expand the project to include an additional lane in each of the roundabouts, which increased the cost to about $7.2 million.
“There was some hesitancy because we didn’t want to give back the funding,” Richards said. “The suggestion to increase the scope of the project made sense, but the cost has grown substantially.”
Earlier this year, the design consultant hired by the city recommended changes to increase the size of the roundabouts that are planned for Smith Valley Road approaching State Road 135 in order to allow more traffic to pass through the intersection, Richards said. In order to make each roundabout larger and add a second lane, the city needed to buy more nearby property.
The funding the city previously was awarded did not cover the cost of purchasing land for the project, and the cost of the added land was too much for the city to pay, Richards said. Greenwood couldn’t use tax-increment financing, or TIF, dollars from the State Road 135 TIF district because it won’t start generating revenue until 2017, Richards said.
In order for the project to be paid for with TIF dollars from another district, the redevelopment commission and the city council would have to approve an amendment to the area’s economic development plan. And if Richards requested that amendment to obtain funding from another TIF district, he would have to show a connection between the project and that economic development plan, Richards said. For example, if Richards requested the project be paid for with money collected in the eastside TIF district near I-65, he would have to show how using that money to pay for the roundabouts on Smith Valley Road ties into the plan for the eastside. Showing that sort of connection is unlikely, Richards said.
Now, the city will seek funding that covers not only the cost of the construction of the roundabout, but additional expenses, such as land, Richards said.
The city will find out next month whether the application for more grant money was approved, Richards said. City officials approached the Indiana Department of Transportation to see if the state could also fund a portion of the project since the work involves improvements on a state road, Richards said.
If the city does not get grant money, officials can look again at the original scope of the project or apply for funding again the next year. The city could also include the larger roundabout into a bigger traffic project in the future, as part of a multi-phase project on Smith Valley Road, Richards said.
Officials also are concerned about Interstate 69 coming in the future, since an interchange is planned at Smith Valley Road. That will make an already busy intersection even busier, Richards said.
“The biggest problem in this area is traffic on State Road 135. I think we’re going to have to seriously look at the Smith Valley Road corridor and see what we can do to improve traffic flow once I-69 is built. Expanding the scope of this project will help that,” Richards said.