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Keystone-style overhaul discussed for key Hamilton County corridor

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Rush-hour backups along State Road 37 in Hamilton County have local officials considering a Keystone Parkway-like overhaul for one of central Indiana’s hottest commercial corridors.

A Metropolitan Planning Organization study, undertaken at the county’s request, recommends replacing as many as 10 signalized intersections with roundabout interchanges, dropping the highway under the cross streets to keep traffic flowing.

It’s an expensive proposition—about $250 million in today’s dollars—that could take years and would require buy-in (literally and figuratively) from the county, the town of Fishers, the city of Noblesville and the Indiana Department of Transportation, which now owns the thoroughfare.

stateroad37-map.gifAnother complication: the businesses and developable land lining the road.

“That corridor is so, so important to economic development,” said County Commissioner Steve Dillinger, who is serving his seventh term on the elected board. “It will be a high priority to make sure anything we do is retail-friendly.”

The alternative is gridlock, according to the 2012 study conducted by Indianapolis engineering firms United Consulting and American Structurepoint. It found four intersections from 126th Street to State Road 32 already are operating with unacceptable delays—more than 80 seconds is considered “failing”—and more are on the brink as growth continues.

About 40,000 vehicles travel the four-lane highway daily.

Retailers typically want to see high traffic counts since more vehicles usually mean more potential customers. But congestion can become an obstacle when it creates “intolerable access issues,” said Tim Stevens, director of development for Indianapolis-based Mann Properties, which has holdings in the area.

Easy access is key for businesses that rely on impulse buyers, whether they’re selling cheeseburgers or gasoline. The longer it takes customers to get somewhere, he said, the less likely they’ll bother.

So business owners are particularly interested in the street-level specifics of any proposed road improvements.

“The concern … is the idea that there are going to be further restrictions on access from 37 to their businesses,” Stevens said. “There are going to be winners and losers.”

He cited the impact of a new median that blocks one of two entrances to Mann’s Parkside development south of 131st Street, making it more difficult for motorists to get to the CVS, Dairy Queen and Arby’s locations there.

Dillinger Dillinger

Claude & Annie’s owner Bill Smythe watches traffic back up on 141st Street west of 37 every afternoon, past his Fishers bar, but he prefers that to the prolonged turmoil of road construction. He noticed a drop in business when town crews were fixing potholes nearby last month.

“Can you imagine a two-year project?” he asked. “I won’t survive.”

Officials say any roadwork is years away. Preliminary discussions with key stakeholders went well, but countless details need to be addressed before finalizing a proposal.

“It’s still conceptual; we’re formulating a plan,” said county Highway Department Director Brad Davis. “We want to achieve a free-flowing corridor down to [Interstate] 465. Doing it piecemeal doesn’t fix anything.”

If the locals want to control timing and design of improvements on 37, they could ask to take over the road from the state, as Carmel did with Keystone. In that case, INDOT handed over the road and $90 million it had allocated for a widening project, and the city assumed responsibility for construction along with ongoing maintenance. Six split-grade interchanges were completed in 2010 at a cost of $112 million.

INDOT is focused for the near term on Interstate 69, including an interchange at 106th Street to be built in partnership with Fishers and Hamilton County.

Such arrangements are increasingly common as communities pitch in to address local needs, said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield. The state’s focus has to be broader.

37 Overpasses on cross streets could ease traffic flow on State Road 37. (Rendering courtesy of Hamilton County)

“Any effort in the near term to replace S.R. 37 traffic signals with interchanges would require the partnership of local communities with significant funding commitments,” he wrote in an email.

That’s still a work in progress.

Fishers Town Council President John Weingardt told IBJ that members were receptive to the idea when it came up last year, but it hasn’t been discussed lately. Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said the devil is in the details.

“We definitely need to think about how it is going to affect us,” he said, given the dense commercial development north of Greenfield Avenue. “Keystone is a beautiful drive, but there’s not much retail. Ours is a little bit different.

Although he doesn’t think the Noblesville stretch of highway is overly congested now, Ditslear praised county leaders for looking to the future. “As we grow and the economy grows, it’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Better to address it now, Dillinger said, when there’s time to build consensus along with a project war chest. Funding is always a challenge, and federal matching grants can take years to come through.

“If we didn’t act until everyone was screaming, it would be too late,” Dillinger said. “And it can’t be done all at once, as much as we would like it to be.”•

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  • Very fitting...
    Just saw this posted on Twitter today. Very fitting. In case you don't want to click the link, it says, "Metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than areas that did not. Trends in congestion show that areas that exhibited greater growth in lane capacity spent roughly $22 billion more on road construction than those that didn't, yet ended up with slightly higher congestion costs per person, wasted fuel, and travel delay." https://twitter.com/ldbennet/status/464051385445515265
  • SR 37 Traffic
    I don't take 37 to or from work because I work in Carmel. But I live right off 37 to the west in Fishers. Even on a Saturday, it can take a long time to cross 37, especially on 141st St and 126th St because the light only stays green for 5 cars to get through. And everything except car dealerships and gas stations, are on the east side of 37. It isn't just about helping traffic move more smoothly on 37. The cross streets would see a HUGE benefit as well!
  • Demand for cross connections
    I looked at Structurepoint's rendering and I did not see any bike lanes or multi-use paths crossing SR 37. It is impossible without placing your life in someone's else's hands to cross SR 37. It might as well be a Berlin Wall to bicyclist and pedestrians crossing SR 37 let alone the average motorist. We will fight any effort that shortchanges bicyclist and pedestrians crossing SR 37 to save a few buck here and there. Fishers is so fractured when you look at bicycle and pedestrian access and we are fighting to make changes. We will no longer accept failures like Structurepoint's Fishers Marketplace and their 135th Street intersection, which completely ignored pedestrian and bicyclist need to cross SR 37. It must stop.
  • More Roads Please
    We can't keep feeding our automobile lifestyle addiction by adding more lanes and more asphalt in an attempt to make all these cars happy. If they can alleviate the congestion without adding additional lanes then go for it. If these plans call for widening the roadway, adding lanes, etc., then scrap it. We don't need more and more bloated infrastructure that will eat into expenditures year after year.
  • Sprawl
    I took a pay cut to do customer service from home, and it's so much less stressful. If I want to head to Hamilton Co, I go during off-peak hours. I'm all for smoother flow of traffic, but I'd rather have better public transportation options.
  • Green line = long term solution
    More road work seems like a short term solution. However considering that the proposed green line parallels state road 37 and there are planned station locations at 116th, 146th, Gerald street, and downtown Noblesville, investing in that would be more of a long term solution. As time goes on and demand increases, a station at 131st street could be put in as well. And before anyone says "how is someone supposed to get from the station to their destination," if you look at the Indy Connect plan, community circulators are included. So it would be up to Fishers and Noblesville councils to determine where the pertinent areas are that those circulators could serve. Reference: http://www.indyconnect.org/UserFiles/pdf/General%20Bus%20Frequency%20Map.pdf
  • Higher Priorities
    Think Hamilton County needs to upgrade 96th street corridor to Geist. Fixing the major traffic gridlock will require widening roads, upgrading intersections, and connecting walking/biking paths.
  • people
    Seems like all of you have the solution!!!! So why aren't you people with Indiana dept. Of transportation? Why don't we leave this to the officials.
  • SPRAWL
    Good to see that we are continuing to subsidize sprawl in Central Indiana. Here's an idea, if you don't like sitting in traffic, don't live so far away from your place of employment.
    • live closer to work?
      Maybe people should stop moving so far out then complaining that they have to wait 80 seconds for a traffic signal. There is plenty of real estate in Indianapolis. Take the $250 million, and use it for economic growth in existing areas. Improve dated and aging homes and invest in the schools.
    • Yikes
      I'd be all for this if they were round, medium speed roundabouts like the ones they have off of interstate-grade highways in parts of Europe, but those goofy hourglass shaped things on Keystone seem to be a bit beyond the average Hoosier's ability to comprehend.
    • Already failing
      126th Street is already failing. Just look at the morning backups that go past 131st Street, and the afternoon backups that begin well before the bridge (seems that new northbound bridge did nothing to help traffic). That whole corridor is messed up and the sooner they can do something the better.
    • Do it now...
      While interest rates are low and before the situation gets worse. Fixing the issue will make living that area even more appealing, otherwise with plenty of cheap flat land, growth will go elsewhere.
    • Sync the lights
      A short term fix would be to sync the lights again. It was done a few years back, but they seem to be out of sync again. Also the light at 141st St is aweful and the sensors need to be fixed. It's triggering turn lanes when nobody is even in the lane to turn thus causin light changes to take forever.
    • AGREED : Widen Allisonville
      Unless you provide a reasonable alternative route, traffic will be impossible by attempting this much needed upgrade to SR 37. I agree that spending the time to upgrade Allisonville to four lanes all the way to Noblesville will provide drivers an alternative route that can be utilized during construction or when traffic is blocked unexpectedly on the main route. Living near 146th in Fishers, I know first hand of the frustration in driving this area during rush hour and I welcome any improvements which do not drastically impede the flow of traffic during construction. My fear of course is that it will take a decade of barrels and frustration before seeing any true benefit to the residences and businesses along this crucial transportation route. Light rail anyone? :-)
    • Pay me now or pay me later.
      juat an opinion but these have worked out well on Keystone though many maintain that they about bankrupted Merchants Square. I think coexistence is possible between business and Extended roundabouts. Construction disrupts business but so would adding a 4th lane and the cost is lost on the 4 lane and you still will likely in time go with ERAB's so you get hit twice. Why prolong the agony?
    • Buy some time widen Allisonville
      Widen allisonville to a four lane all the way to 146th. It would help in the short term.

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