Business owners in Broad Ripple are expressing frustration as the Indianapolis Department of Public Works prepares to start on a major new construction project even before wrapping up a lengthy road overhaul on the entertainment district’s main strip that has drawn out well past the expected end date.
Business owners said they felt blindsided last week when they were told by city officials about the planned reconstruction of Westfield Boulevard bridge over the Indiana Central Canal—a $4.7 million project will require lane restrictions and a 100-day street closure. The meeting took place less than a week before the project began Monday and is expected to be completed by summer.
Numerous business owners contacted by IBJ don’t dispute that the bridge, which DPW officials say is structurally sound but among the worst in the county, needs to be replaced. Where they take issue with the project is the timing—following a traffic-crippling reconstruction of Broad Ripple Avenue in the the core of the village—and what they contend is a lack of communication before the start.
Jordan Dillon, president of the Broad Ripple Village Association, or BRVA, has a call with the DPW every two weeks. The bridge project hasn’t been mentioned in any of those recent calls, she told IBJ.
“[The BRVA’s] goal is to be a partner and a bridge between the city and this community that we serve,” Dillon said. “And it’s been really hard to do that because it seems like the stream of information is not flowing in a way to make that successful partnership happen.”
Dillon acknowledged that there had been some conversations about the bridge project prior to the Monday meeting. But, those conversations occurred at a public meeting in late fall 2022, at which the department shared intentions to begin the bridge project in January 2023.
After the city was unsuccessful in bidding out the project, the department told a members-only meeting of the BRVA that the bridge project had been put on hold, Dillon told IBJ.
In a statement, DPW spokesman Corey Ohlenkamp said conversations about the bridge replacement have been going on for more than a decade. Work by Citizens Energy Group and AES Indiana on utility relocation began Dec. 11 and should be be completed Dec. 23. The Department of Public Works is set to start work on the bridge Jan. 8, instituting a full closure of Westfield Boulevard until April 16.
Construction around the roadway will continue afterward, but the roadway is expected to be open to traffic from April 17 until July 31, which is the substantial completion date for the project, the statement said.
“Full completion, landscaping and other punch out items that we would call a full closeout of the project, is in September,” Ohlenkamp wrote in an email.
However, after the ongoing Broad Ripple Avenue project missed its expected completion date by most of a year, business owners are finding it hard to trust the city’s newest timeline.
Andy Skinner, owner of Indy CD and Vinyl, 806 Broad Ripple Ave., was initially optimistic when construction on Broad Ripple Avenue began last year.
“After the initial grumbling, I think people will come to understand this is all certainly for the greater good,” Skinner told IBJ in April 2022.
However, with that project still dragging on, Skinner said he’s concerned about length of the bridge reconstruction.
“There just seems to be no level of trust whatsoever from the businesses in Broad Ripple when it comes to the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Public Works,” Skinner told IBJ. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do no matter what, we’re just going to have to live with it.”
Skinner said this was exemplified by the timing of last week’s meeting just a few days before the start of utility relocation. Additionally, he said city officials in attendance were unable to answer some questions from concerned business owners.
The reconstruction of Broad Ripple Avenue began April 6, 2022. When the project was first announced, it was expected to wrap up in spring 2023. The final touches on the project, such as cleanup and tree planting, should be complete by Christmas, according to the DPW.
For Skinner, whose record store relies heavily on foot traffic, any construction that makes it more difficult to reach Broad Ripple during the holiday season is especially concerning. He understands that government work is difficult and slow, but said there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason why the project needs to begin in December.
The beginning of the project will require lane closures staffed by flaggers, Ohlenkamp said.
The timing of the bridge construction is constrained by a contract that only allows work in the canal from January to April, along with a deadline to use federal infrastructure funding that will pay for most of the project, the statement added. The city also worked to avoid conflicts with work on Broad Ripple Avenue.
“The bridge replacement was set for construction several years ago, but a failure of the Emrichsville Dam in 2018 led to an emergency declaration that stopped all work along the levee and canal until the dam could be replaced by Citizens Energy Group,” Ohlenkamp wrote in an email. “This work allowed water services to continue to be provided for the entire county. By the time that project was completed, work had started on the Broad Ripple Avenue project.”
Now, BRVA members are looking toward a private meeting with city officials on Dec. 21, during which some merchants plan to ask for grant dollars for affected businesses and promotional materials for the entertainment district.