The Hamilton County Council on Wednesday approved a $5.6 million payment to chip away at the cost overruns plaguing its joint State Road 37 improvement project with the city of Fishers.
Fishers Engineering Director Jason Taylor provided an update in mid-November to show the project’s new interchanges and other improvements will likely cost $42 million beyond the initial $124 million budget established in 2015. Earlier estimates projected even greater overruns.
The county council expressed concerns Wednesday about its share of those overruns before voting 5-2 to grant an initial $5.6 million and keep things moving.
Council members Rick McKinney and Fred Glynn voted against the allotment, in part, because the project sets a new precedent for the county’s involvement in a single city’s infrastructure.
“We are specifically involved in this project in one municipality,” Glynn said. “What message is that going to send when we have to say no to Carmel? When we have to say no to Noblesville? Or are we going to say yes to these people even though we don’t have the budgetary measures to fund the projects?”
McKinney said as of now, the county is on the hook for a total $21 million before the end of next year. When all is said and done, he expects the project will run closer to $50 million over that initial budget.
“This $5 million is going to be a drop in the bucket,” Glynn said. “They’re going to keep coming for this.”
Beyond the price overruns caused by a bad drainage estimate, unexpected utility relocations and costly land acquisitions, McKinney said he’s especially disappointed that only one of the project’s planned five new interchanges has been completed since the project started four years ago. The new 126th Street interchange opened late last month. Still in the works are major overhauls to 131st Street, 141st Street and 146th Street, and smaller modifications to 135th Street.
Some council members feared that slow progress would come to a complete stop if they didn’t approve the money. Council member Ken Alexander said the next phase needs the county’s funding to go to bid by the spring.
“We were put in a position where this is our responsibility and our role to provide,” Alexander said.
Council member Jeff Hern agreed.
“At this point, I think we just need to get it done for the people of Fishers and Noblesville,” he said.