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Hamilton County Council hesitant to rush funding for S.R. 37 project

January 26, 2016

Hamilton County Council members seem to be in support of upgrading State Road 37, but they aren’t eager to commit to funding the $124 million project.

The Hamilton County Council and Board of Commissioners had a joint meeting Monday night to discuss the financing arrangement to transform the state highway into a free-flow parkway with roundabout-style interchanges, and some council members questioned why the price estimate had drastically changed. The council serves as the county's fiscal body and must sign off on the funding. 

The county had previously considered a $243 million project that would have covered six miles of S.R. 37 from Interstate 69 to S.R. 32 in Noblesville. The current proposal would only go from 126th to 146th streets. The Indiana Department of Transportation would provide $100 million and Hamilton County and Fishers would each contribute $12 million.

“We’re nowhere near $243 million,” county council member Fred Glynn said.

County commissioner Steve Dillinger said the price estimates changed as plans became more detailed. Additional funding would be used to extend the work through Noblesville eventually.

Hamilton County and Fishers would contribute an additional $4.5 million, and Noblesville would spend $16.5 million, meaning each governing body would spend a total of $16.5 million for the entire project. The Noblesville intersections will be included in the environmental study that is required before any construction can begin.

The project is an effort to relieve congestion on the busy state highway. Roughly 100,000 vehicles travel through and across that stretch of the highway daily, according to Hamilton County data, and four intersections from 126th Street to State Road 32 already have unacceptable delays during busy time periods.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness has said the city will likely use bonds to pay for its share, and the Fishers City Council has already signed off its support to commit the funding for it.

The county could use bonds or cash on hand, but exact details were not discussed at Monday’s meeting.

“We can fund this project and not raise taxes at all,” Dillinger said. “I’m just telling you some ideas.”

Dillinger suggested the council approve an interlocal agreement, essentially pledging support to provide $12 million when needed at the council’s next meeting Feb. 3, but several council members were hesitant to take a vote that quickly when the legal document had not been finalized yet.

“I really don’t want to vote on it in February,” council member Paul Ayers said. “I think it’s rushing it to vote on it in a week.”

County Commissioner Christine Altman said the interlocal agreement is needed to give Fishers and INDOT an assurance that the county will pay its share.

“We’re just asking we move along as quickly as possible,” Altman said.

Construction isn’t expected to start for another two to three years while an environmental study is conducted. The project itself could take another three years to complete after that. The project is expected to be completed in phases to minimize impacts.

Fishers would take control of the road during construction, but after the project is finished, INDOT will resume responsibility for maintenance and future upgrades.

Council member Brad Beaver said he’d like to have a timeline provided of when the county would need to spend the initial $12 million and when the additional $4.5 million would be needed for the next phase. Under the arrangement with Fishers and INDOT, Fishers would spend its $12 million first, then the county would provide $12 million, then the state would kick in its $100 million, but an exact timeline hasn't been determined. 

“Really all we want you to tell us is how much you want and when you want it,” Beaver said.

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