By Marla Ailor, Vice-President
More often than not, in order to get the right answer, the citizenry must be well-informed in order to ask the right questions. The questions being raised in regard to the widening of State Road 32 through Westfield’s Historic Downtown is the perfect example of how too little information leads to discourse and how a surreptitious government doesn’t always readily offer the facts in evidence. Let’s start with what you may not know.
Why was an Interlocal Agreement signed with INDOT in the first place?
INDOT had no plans to widen SR 32 through 2028. (Listen beginning at 18:52). According to Mayor Cook, their plan was simply to perform pavement maintenance work or “reconstruct” along the ½-mile stretch from US 31 to East Street. In the August 22, 2018 Board of Public works meeting, City Engineer, John Nail announced that “we are solving our downtown congestion issues.” It was understood the “environmental process would take 18-24 months” due to the historic properties and the City would handle the engineering and management of the project. What was/is unusual about it is the city is controlling the project. The project, which was labeled as a pilot project initially, called for the unique 50-50 split rather than the typical 80-20 split with the Federal government.
Why would Westfield choose to pay 30% more for funding than take the typical 80-20 split?
The City is literally paying more to get what it wants, not necessarily what would be “allowed” to suit its need (about $3 million dollars more). The federal requirement mandates that if going around the city is more economical, then that is what would be done, but we’ll never really know because Westfield withdrew from federal funding back in November 2020. When you pull out of federal funding though, it comes as no surprise that a federal mandate wouldn’t apply. The process would have required substantial environmental impact studies through a process called a 106 Review. The purpose is to avoid, minimize or mitigation damage to historic properties. It was understood those studies were going to take up to two years to navigate, so when the Mayor said (in his recent Facebook video) “we’ve spent a lot of money on historical mitigation”, it’s because the city had to; not because they’ve entered into any great mitigation agreements. A petition to preserve the buildings impacted by the widening was produced by the Westfield Preservation Alliance which can be signed here. WPA has spent almost three years in mitigation meetings and read more than a thousand pages of material supplied by the city’s engineering firm. Nonetheless, the City, their engineers, and INDOT have applied for a Certificate of Approval from the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board. That meeting takes place this Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at Westfield City Hall at 1 pm.
Would the Council be in breach if they terminated the agreement?
No. Section 1.5 of the Interlocal Agreement signed by BPW in 2018 has a termination clause in which it allows either the City or INDOT to terminate it. Additionally, concerns were raised at the time of its passage regarding the cost, the risk, the level of service, and the partnership with INDOT during the October 8, 2018 City Council meeting by Councilor Cindy Spoljaric.
Has the Westfield City Council ever “broken the rules” in a Council meeting before?
Yes. Mayor Cook and his attorney objected to the current council adding Ordinance 21-21 to its March 22, 2021 agenda which would have effectively terminated the 2018 Interlocal Agreement. To hear how it all fell apart, listen here at approximately 1:07:00. Ironically, there was no motion to suspend the rules on October 8th, 2018 and the agreement, which was simply to be introduced that night and up for adoption consideration at the October 22nd meeting, passed unanimously. Despite asking if it was necessary to suspend the rules, the mayor and his attorney (at the time) advised it was not. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.
What does “The Project” really include?
The Application for the Certificate of Approval describes the “Preferred Alternative” within the boundaries of the Westfield Historic District as:
4, 11-12’-wide travel lanes
An 11’-wide turn lane
A 2’-wide raised center curb with 1’ wide curb offset (Curb and gutter)
8’-wide sidewalks separated by 6’ wide buffers on both sides of the roadway
This will result in widening the road by 25’ and result in the removal of four historic buildings from the Westfield Historic District. (A total overall width of 91’ for those of you who were thinking about the math.)
Don’t we have enough road already?
Yes, the city was originally platted with 70’ for the downtown thoroughfare. The FHWA recommends calming traffic. This is done through the use of narrower lanes that are only 10-11’ wide and has become standard practice. Often what is used is referred to as a "road diet" or a four-to-three lane conversion. Or think of it this way, if the four travel lanes and the turn lane are just 10’-wide, (as recommended by FWHA) with a 2’-wide center median with the 1’ gutters, and you still have 8’ sidewalks on each side…you only need 70’. Great news, we’ve already got it!
Is a four-five lane highway safe, walkable, and pedestrian friendly?
According to the following sources, no. Westfield signed a “Complete Streets Policy” back in 2013. The goal of this policy reads in part, “Complete streets should incorporate community values and qualities including environment, scenic, aesthetic, historic and natural resources, safety and mobility.” The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) supports fewer lanes, slower traffic and requires a process that requires INDOT to avoid, minimize, or mitigate damage to historic properties. No’s are also the word according to Strong Towns and Smart Growth America. Of particular interest is the latest video and slide show titled “Dangerous by Design.”
Is $15-million dollars enough to cover the project?
No. Maybe? “Alternative A” which is the iteration that is preferred, lists the cost of the project at $22.85 million in 2018 dollars according to Exhibit A of the Interlocal Agreement. The project has yet to be bid as it has also not been approved. Think about this, INDOT is going to spend $6 million for ROW and $1.5 (to be spent next year) on mobility construction and mobility right of way and Westfield will spend their $7.9 million (already $400,000 over budget) on design, construction, and management of the project. During a recent Community Action Committee meeting on March 31, 2021, it was stated the project is being re-engineered, for whatever that’s worth (does Grand Junction Plaza sound familiar). If we simply used the 70 feet we have by repaving and re-striping, we could save either entity a whole bunch of money. But, hey, government…efficiency…Westfield…meh.
As County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said in a recent Facebook post, “The goal all along has been to improve the traffic flow, develop a corridor that does not divide the community but to improve safety (vehicle/pedestrian), make the corridor more pedestrian friendly (wider sidewalks, improved crossings and signing), add decorative hardscape and landscape features and improve traffic operations now and for the future. The project also plans to embrace the historical features of Westfield and somehow incorporate that back into the community.” Frankly, the Commissioner has described the goals quite accurately. If Westfield has 99 problems though, this road and transparency are just two of them.
The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is a watchdog organization in Hamilton County, Indiana of residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.