County continues to build case for State Road 37 overhaul

Hamilton County officials are circling the wagons to prepare for negotiations over the future of State Road 37.

As IBJ reported last month, leaders looking to ease congestion on the commercial corridor are considering a Keystone Parkway-like overhaul from Interstate 69 in Fishers to State Road 38 in Noblesville.

Replacing the existing signalized intersections with roundabout interchanges would cost about $243 million and require buy-in (literally and figuratively) from the county, the town of Fishers, the city of Noblesville and the Indiana Department of Transportation, which now owns the thoroughfare.

“It always comes down to money,” said Christine Altman, president of the three-member commission. “We need to figure out how to eat the elephant.”

So county commissioners on Wednesday brought in experts from Indianapolis engineering firms American Structurepoint and United Consulting to brief County Council members on the problem and potential solutions.

The consultants said four intersections along the six-mile stretch already are operating with unacceptable delays—more than 80 seconds is considered “failing”—and more are on the brink as growth continues.

“Congestion affects quality of life,” American Structurepoint’s Greg Kasinski, showing an aerial photo of a one-mile-long traffic backup along the highway during morning rush hour.

Congestion creates problems with air quality and noise pollution, he said, and snarled traffic on State Road 37 will cost motorists $1 billion over the next 20 years if nothing changes.

“It’s tough to get around,” agreed United Consulting’s Dave Richter.

That can be a turn off to businesses that want to know how long it takes to get to the airport or downtown Indianapolis, he said, potentially affecting economic development.

Although INDOT is aware of the problem, the agency has no projects in the works. If the locals want to control timing and design of improvements on 37, they could ask to take over the road from the state, as Carmel did with Keystone.

“You need to be proactive and take control” to get a solution that works for the highway, Richter said.

Officials said preliminary discussions with the state and other key stakeholders went well, but countless details still need to be addressed before finalizing a proposal.

The consulting team will make similar presentations to leaders in Fishers and Noblesville to make sure everyone is on board before putting pencil to paper.  County Councilor Brad Beaver said funding for the project will need to come from multiple sources: the municipalities, the county, the state and the federal government.

"I have no problem being the lead agency on this, but I don't want [the county] to be the lead funding agency," he said.

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