The Indiana Department of Transportation and the city of Westfield will share any cost overruns related to their State Road 32 expansion project, now that the state agency has removed a cap on its contributions, an INDOT official said Monday night.
Jennifer Beck, a senior project manager for INDOT, appeared before the Westfield City Council to alleviate fears that an estimated $15 million project expanding State Road 32 from two lanes to four would cost the city far more than expected.
Beck said during the public comment period that INDOT will continue to contribute funds to the project beyond a previously established $7.5 million cap—so long as those expenses are a result of increased bid costs and not the addition of local amenities.
“I understand that this is not written in that agreement, so I understand this is new information,” Beck said. “We are committed to delivering the State Road 32 project—local amenities aside—at a 50-50 rate.”
Westfield City Council President Mike Johns and Council Member Troy Patton have both expressed concerns about the additional financial burden the city might bear to complete the project, which has been more than 10 years in the making.
Beck said INDOT has been made aware of an overall increase in the construction cost index as a result of COVID-19 and limited resource availability, but she said to think the project will balloon from $15 million to $25 million just because Fishers’ State Road 37 project is over budget is absurd.
She said the Fishers project’s budget has increased because of a change in its scope, and the State Road 32 project is “pretty cut and dry.”
Westfield Council Member Scott Frei asked whether there would be an upper limit if the state’s contributions weren’t capped at $7.5 million as stated in the interlocal agreement. Beck said that will be determined when bids for the project are more clear.
Certain aspects could still require the city to cover costs beyond the original estimate without assistance from the state. Tree plantings, utility relocations, decorative elements and other facets of the design that wouldn’t already be incorporated in the state project would fall to the city.
“That’s the reason why we’re contributing to this project, so we can get something we’re proud of in our downtown,” Westfield Department of Public Works Director Jeremy Lollar said.
Westfield officials had planned to discuss terminating agreement Monday night, but postponed that decision.
Other factors still have a bearing on whether or not the agreement is workable. The Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board will consider the city’s application for a certificate of appropriateness at a meeting Tuesday night, and a ruling against the preferred route could send the project back to its early design stages.
If the agreement is terminated, Beck said there would be repercussions beyond the $450,000 in reimbursements owed to the state.
A $35 million project adding lanes to State Road 32, between Westfield and Noblesville, would have to be reevaluated if the downtown choke point isn’t addressed. The current asphalt along that stretch of road is at the end of its life, and the earliest funding could be available for a repaving project might not be until 2027. Also, traffic that’s already received a failing grade along that corridor might start to affect the road’s interchange with U.S. 31.
Beck said INDOT doesn’t make decisions based on spite, and instead looks at need and data. However, if the agreement is canceled, it could affect future relationships and how that stretch of road is ultimately addressed.
“If we had an agreement canceled, we would be very hesitant to engage in another interlocal again and would probably pursue our own process, with our own funds, without that challenge along the way,” she said.