State Road 37 overhaul plan inches forward

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The facts aren’t in dispute: Congestion on State Road 37 in Hamilton County must be addressed before development along the commercial corridor turns it into a parking lot.

But easing rush-hour backups along the highway won’t be cheap or easy.

As IBJ reported in May, county officials are vetting a plan to replace signalized intersections with roundabout interchanges on a six-mile stretch from Interstate 69 to State Road 32, aiming to reduce the drive time from 30 minutes to less than 10.

But pulling off the $243 million plan also would require buy-in from leaders in the town of Fishers, city of Noblesville and the Indiana Department of Transportation, which now controls the road.

“Local control is just essential,” said Christine Altman, president of the three-member county commission.

So commissioners and a team of consultants on Monday briefed Fishers Town Council on the problem and proposed solution in hopes of building consensus before what promises to be lengthy negotiations.

Council County members signed off on the plan in June, and a similar presentation to the Noblesville Common Council is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Commissioner Christine Altman said the county’s not asking for financial commitments—yet—but officials want to make sure the partners are on the same page before proceeding with a formal request to take over the highway.

Once that process begins, it likely will take about three years to finalize ownership and financing before seeking bids from contractors, engineer Dave Richter of United Consulting said. The work itself is expected to take five construction seasons.

Only four of Fishers’ seven councilors attended the Monday briefing, but they seemed to like the idea of implementing a Keystone Parkway-like overhaul to address air pollution, noise concerns and connectivity issues.

Member David George wasn’t as keen on the idea of owning the road, though, since the locals also would be responsible for any future improvements.

“That could be big money,” he said. “In 30 years, we might wish we hadn’t done that.”

Town Manager Scott Fadness, who is poised to become Fishers’ first mayor when it becomes a city Jan. 1, said the municipality already is facing “hidden costs” from the State Road 37 congestion, as more drivers take to local roads to avoid traffic tie-ups.

The town is looking at upgrading Cumberland Road and other increasingly busy north-south thoroughfares, he said.

Roundabout interchanges also would ease congestion on east-west routes, Richter and American Structurepoint’s Greg Kasinski said, better connecting the communities on either side of what is now a major barrier.

And free-flowing traffic would be an advantage for economic development, they said, since businesses depend on customers and suppliers having reliable access.

“If we do nothing … the effects on those businesses will be devastating,” said Commissioner Steve Dillinger.

Fadness said the Fishers council will discuss the proposal before deciding whether to support the plan.

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