Carmel considers 32 new roundabouts, $242M in new debt

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Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he could imagine a day where it’s possible that the only traffic light left in Carmel is at Main Street and Range Line Road. Every single intersection would have a roundabout, a stop sign or, in some cases, nothing at all.

Brainard isn’t inching toward that goal, he’s sprinting. With a City Council full of candidates he endorsed about to take office, Brainard sent out a release before Christmas detailing his plan for $217 million in new projects, including 32 new roundabouts. Carmel already has 95 roundabouts and the hundredth is expected to be complete soon.

But in the city’s haste to get the news release out before the new year, there was a miscalculation. The total bond needed for the multitude of new roundabouts, road projects, storm water improvements and more is closer to $242 million. This higher amount includes various costs such as bond sales, marketing and other expenses not included in the estimated project cost.

Brainard told Current in Carmel that the $217 million is accurate for the project cost and he readily shared the larger number for complete transparency. He said there’s no attempt to mislead the taxpayer and it’s a mistake that the original press release didn’t include the larger number.

There were 26 public hearings held at the Carmel City Council’s first meeting of 2016 in an effort to get started on the many projects, which have been sent to council committees for review. Brainard expects strong support, which he said he didn’t always receive from the previous city council, yet the mayor admits there will be disagreements along the way. He said he hopes a new spirit of cooperation will lead to better efficiency because everyone will work together instead of wasting time arguing and grandstanding. Brainard said he feels the city has often moved too slowly in the past and the voters want to see the city move forward.

The roundabouts themselves can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million, but most bonds have been set at $2 million since they have to be for a specific roundabout project. If there’s extra money, it’s put into a reserve to pay off the bond, but it won’t be used on other projects. If there’s not enough money, projects could be scaled down. Brainard also noted that the city is applying for state and federal grants to help with many of these projects.

The city is hoping to acquire pieces of land to build a roundabout at Carmel Drive and Range Line Road, a roundabout that was specifically removed from the city’s master plan by the previous council because of a lack of support. Relocation of businesses should not be necessary and land acquisition costs haven’t been determined.

Some city councilors have questioned how some roundabouts will work in various parts of town. They’ve asked if roundabouts near schools help slow traffic to ensure pedestrian safety or cause faster  speeds. Brainard said he’s seen studies that show they slow drivers, and that’s why he supports roundabouts near schools. Councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider also had questions about whether roundabouts along Range Line Road — such as those proposed at 116th Street and Carmel Drive — would see backups all the way to a traffic light at the parking lot of EarthFare. Brainard said it wouldn’t cause backups and said a study could be provided later.

Despite the new spending, Brainard said he wants to remind Carmel taxpayers that tax rates are still relatively low for the city. He said a tax increase of a little more than $20 per year is possible for some homeowners, but he provided a handout that showed comparisons to Fishers in terms of property taxes.

One Carmel home was valued at $104,220 in 1998 and $187,100 in 2015. It saw property taxes decrease from $2,813 in 1998 to $1,772 in 2015. A similar home in Fishers was valued at $104,910 in 1998 and $190,000 in 2015. It saw property taxes also decrease from $3,213 in 1998 to $1,866 in 2015. Brainard’s point is that the Fishers home is valued about the same but pays almost $100 more in taxes a year.

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