UPDATE: Judge orders Carmel to halt work on 96th Street roundabout project

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The city of Carmel has been ordered by a Boone County judge to cease any work on its proposed 96th Street roundabout project, which is the subject of an ongoing land dispute with Indianapolis.

Special Judge Matt Kincaid on Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction favoring Indianapolis in the case, which Indianapolis filed June 2.

Indianapolis is trying to stop Carmel from installing roundabouts at four intersections on the border of the two cities and encroaching on Indianapolis’ municipal territory. The plan calls for a roundabout at the intersections of Hazel Dell Parkway, Gray Road, Delegates Row and Randall Drive.

Kincaid was appointed by Marion County Judge Thomas Carroll after Carmel filed a motion for a change in judges.

Indianapolis argues in its complaint that Carmel’s plans show the project will spill across the county line. Under state statute, Indianapolis asserts, Carmel must enter into an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with Indianapolis before it can acquire right-of-way or other property interests.

Despite no interlocal agreement, "Carmel is proceeding forward anyway; revising plans and specifications, negotiating with landowners to acquire right of way, putting the project out for public bids, and awarding contracts,” Kincaid ruled in his decision.

“Carmel is preliminary enjoined from exercising power to acquire, use, improve, develop, insure, protect, or maintain any additional real property inside Indianapolis adjacent to its existing right of way” on 96th Street from Delegates Row to Hazel Dell Parkway unless the two neighbors secure an interlocal cooperation agreement," Kincaid's order says.

Carmel officials have argued that Indianapolis should welcome the project because it is designed to reduce traffic congestion on Marion County's border and will be paid for by Carmel.

“The law cannot compel an unwilling municipality to enter into an interlocal cooperation agreement to allow an unwanted project from another—even when the oppositional municipality is paying no money for the project and its neighbor is footing the bill,” the ruling says.

The order states that Indianapolis has a “reasonable likelihood of success on the merits” at trial, and that Indianapolis has carried the burden of proof that without the injunction, “irreparable harm” would be caused.

“There is harm to Indianapolis’ territorial integrity as a city from Carmel unilaterally acting within it,” the order says.

The order also noted that halting the roundabout project will not hurt the public because it will keep the status quo.

Carmel is legally obligated to maintain the portion of 96th Street because it is on Hamilton County's southern border. The city says it spends more than $50,000 each year in maintenance costs for 96th Street, for items such as streetlights, traffic signals, signs and storm drains.

Carmel said it is “anxious about the effects on other projects” if the 96th Street project is delayed.

Kincaid said that was something Carmel should have considered earlier.

“The harm that Carmel is at risk for with increased costs, utility fines, impact on other projects has been brought about, to a degree, by Carmel itself,” he wrote. “Carmel knew that Indianapolis believed an interlocal was required and it knew of some risk that it might not get one.”

The judge noted that Carmel could redesign the project “so as not to encroach upon Indianapolis territory." Nancy Heck, city spokeswoman for Carmel, noted that the injunction was preliminary, not permanent.

"We are pleased that the judge recognized that Carmel has been attempting for many months to enter into an interlocal agreement with Indianapolis that will allow it to improve traffic safety and relieve congestion on 96th Street, and that Indianapolis has simply refused to discuss the terms of such a mutual agreement that would allow this road project to proceed," she said Thursday in an email to IBJ. "We are also pleased that the judge has agreed to order Indianapolis to engage in mediation to resolve whatever issues are causing it to hamper Carmel’s efforts to move forward with this needed infrastructure improvement."

Donald E. Morgan, Indianapolis’ chief litigation counsel, said the city would not comment on pending litigation.

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