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Brainard defends Keystone project

November 17, 2008
Hamilton County — Politicians seldom sign letters admitting their mistakes. But Carmel Mayor James Brainard is willing to eat a little crow over Project CarmelLink: up to $52 million worth.

"I will admit that I was overly optimistic in my original position of how much it would take to complete this project," Brainard said in an Oct. 31 letter to Carmel residents. "In addition, several factors beyond our control have affected our costs."

Project CarmelLink is Brainard's plan to physically lower congested Keystone Avenue and build roundabout interchanges at its major cross streets. He developed it as an alternative to the Indiana Department of Transportation's original proposal to widen Keystone and build traditional "tight diamond" interchanges.

Brainard, a Republican, originally estimated Project CarmelLink could be paid for with the $90 million Carmel received from Indiana's $3.8 billion Indiana Toll Road lease. He pegged the project's total expense at $112 million, but anticipated that cost under runs and interest earnings on the $90 million would cover the difference.

That's clearly no longer the case. In the Oct. 31 letter, Brainard explained that construction expenses have risen dramatically. He also said Carmel's current cost estimates, based on detailed surveys, soil samples, architectural drawings and construction bids, are more reliable than his preliminary estimates

Brainard now predicts the project will cost $130 million to $142 million. He proposes covering the $40 million to $52 million deficit by redirecting funds from other parts of Carmel's development budget.

"Despite what you might have heard, residential property tax payments will not increase if we fund the additional costs, nor will taxes decrease if we don't fund the project," Brainard wrote. "I am proposing that we reallocate funds that were intended for the fast-growing areas in the northwestern area of the city that has slowed in growth as a result of the housing market."

At its Nov. 3 meeting, Carmel's City Council balked at immediately offering the extra funds. The council will consider the matter again Nov. 17. Brainard argues Project CarmelLink is still necessary, even if it may be up to 58 percent more expensive than expected.

"I remain steadfast in my conviction that the Keystone CarmelLink project is the most important road project Carmel has built or will build in the next 50 years," he wrote. "Completing this project as it was designed is critical to our infrastructure, delivery of a much safer corridor, continued economic development of the City, the property value of homes near Keystone, and the future viability and success of the Merchants Square area businesses."
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