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City seeks more road funds: Federal dollars not finding their way back to Greenwood, officials say

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Johnson County pulls in less federal road funding than other central Indiana counties, but Greenwood’s mayor hopes to bring in more of that money.

During the past decade, Greenwood has gotten less in federal road money than Carmel, Plainfield or Avon, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization. Greenwood and other Johnson County governments have gotten about $38 million overall, while Carmel and other Hamilton County governments have received more than $67

million during the same period.

Avon, which has a smaller population than Greenwood, got about $5 million more than Greenwood over the past decade.

Mayor Mark Myers said he hopes to bring a greater share of those federal dollars into Greenwood for major road projects such as the planned transformation of Worthsville Road into an east-west corridor. He said he’ll try to persuade planning organization members that Greenwood is a fast-growing community that has a need for those dollars.

“We’ll let them know who we are, what options we have and that we’re a growing, thriving community,” he said.

The planning agency awarded Greenwood about $11 million in federal funds over the past decade, such as for the pedestrian bridge over Smith Valley Road and the expansion of Emerson Avenue to five lanes. Greenwood typically has to pay 20 percent of a project’s cost with local tax dollars in order to get the federal money.

Much of the money is awarded through the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional agency that decides how federal dollars are divvied up to build new roads and trails throughout central Indiana.

Communities across the nine-county area have representatives on the board that picks which projects best meet the criteria for federal funding, such as how much congestion would be lessened if a road were widened.

Indianapolis gets much of the funding because of its size, but more than 30 other local governments in the metropolitan area also try to get those dollars.

For example, Carmel has received $22 million over the past 10 years for a variety of projects. Northside communities often are awarded federal road funding partly because their streets are some of the busiest in the region, and they’re the most populous of the communities surrounding Indianapolis, planning organization principal planner Steve Cunningham said.

The northside also gets more federal dollars for trails projects because the White River has a lot of tributaries on the northside but doesn’t south of downtown, Cunningham said. Trails often line those flood-prone tributaries because little can be built on that land and it is best suited for recreation.

Myers said that he and Greenwood community development services director Mark Richards plan to meet more often with regional planning officials and make the case for the city’s projects. Greenwood has several projects it could use federal funding for, such as the long-planned Worthsville Road expansion that would serve as part of an east-west corridor.

But they’ll face challenges, including that there’s been a shift in focus on how federal road dollars are spent. Much of that federal money traditionally has gone to pay for new or wider roads, but now maintaining existing roads has become the priority, Cunningham said.

The planning organization judges each project on its own merits, he said. Planners and the board don’t favor particular areas, but they have to consider where the most traffic and residents are when evaluating projects, he said.

Planners who work for the organization consider requests for money, evaluate which best meet federal criteria for how money is spent and then make recommendations to a board of community representatives. The board decides which projects to fund.

Cunningham said the planning organization has funded several projects in Greenwood over the years and that he believed the organization and the city had a good working relationship.

Myers said Greenwood should make more of an effort to secure federal funding that often ends up being spent on the northside.

“There’s less money, and I’m tired of Carmel winning it all,” he said. “They just got more funding for 96th and Keystone and 106th and Keystone. But, of course, a lot of work goes on up there.”

Myers said a major reason why Carmel was successful in securing so much federal money is because it also has enough to pay the local shares. Carmel’s tax-increment financing districts generate more than $100 million a year in revenue, allowing the city to have enough money to pledge 20 percent or more to most projects it wants federal funding for.

Communities across central Indiana can get more federal funding if they pursue more projects, get design and preliminary work done themselves and offer to pay more than the 20 percent share that’s usually required with federal projects, Cunningham said.

For instance, Fishers has offered to pay for half of a project, Cunningham said. The projects still have to be worthy, but federal dollars can be spread around instead of tied up in one project when communities volunteer to pay more than what’s required, he said.

The money ultimately will go to whatever projects most closely meet federal criteria, such as to lessen congestion and improve air quality, he said.

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