Rage over roundabouts

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Something as simple as a roundabout has caused heated debate among Mayor Jim Brainard and the Carmel City Council.

It seems the arguments are “going in circles” with nobody able to convince anyone else of their point of view.

When the City Council was deciding changes to the city’s C3 Comprehensive Plan, there was a proposed roundabout included in the plan at Range Line Road and Carmel Drive, near the Turkey Hill convenience store, Arby’s and Noodles & Co.

Brainard would like to construct a roundabout where that intersection is currently to improve traffic flow.

Some on the City Council, such as Luci Snyder, have said they don’t think that’s an appropriate location for a roundabout because it could hurt businesses. Range Line Road used to be seen as a struggling area. But with the Carmel City Center, the Indiana Design Center, the new Turkey Hill, the new Walgreens, EarthFare and the proposed redevelopment for Justin Moffett’s portion of the Midtown Plan, it appears that the area is now doing very well. Snyder said she would hate to see that progress be stalled. Her theory is that you don’t have large traffic jams, but you don’t want motorists to move so quickly that they blow past your business without stopping to see your sign. When you are stopped at an intersection you might just discover a new place to eat.

Brainard said Snyder’s theory is unproven. There have been studies but they don’t show much of a conclusion for any side of the argument. In addition, he said motorists can keep moving on roundabouts, but they actually reduce speed because you can’t go through them at high speeds. You might keep moving, but it’s not Interstate 465.

City Councilor Ron Carter said he believes that improving traffic flow helps businesses in the area. He said inefficient traffic can deter people from even wanting to take certain roads. Drivers take shortcuts and side streets and don’t see your business at all.

Now, before you quote the legendary Yogi Berra who said, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded,” I believe Carter could be correct in saying you can have traffic congestion without a large number of people. That’s why I use the word “inefficient.”

City Councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider said he doesn’t take a side on whether the roundabout should be included but noted that the comprehensive plan is not an order to do something. There’s no mandate to create something just because it’s in the document. These are guidelines to let people know what the city envisions. If there’s money being requested for the project and the mayor said he wants it then Rider said it should be included in the document so people know that this is something that is being seriously discussed.

Some mentioned the cost of the roundabout. Brainard said it’s 90 percent — if not more when costs are reevaluated — funded through federal road funds, so it doesn’t hurt our local budget. Some councilors have questioned those cost projections, wondering if removing/burying power lines has been included in this budget, or the possible acquisition or relocation of the nearby Arby’s.

That’s another tricky part of this plan. It’s likely that the Arby’s would have to move from its current spot to support this new roundabout. Although this isn’t set in stone.

The City Council voted 4-3 to remove the roundabout from the comprehensive plan and then Brainard threatened to veto the plan until it was discovered that these certain document approvals don’t require the mayor’s approval, so he couldn’t veto it. Instead, the Carmel Plan Commission’s executive committee — not the full commission — voted to put the roundabout back in, necessitating an ordinance to be written up by the City Council, which passed last week 4-3.

So, why is a roundabout so important? Well, some city leaders, such as Brainard and members of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, would like to see a better use for the site of the former Party Time Rental establishment.

The vacant building would likely be torn down and a new “tavern on the green” would be created in its space. It would be a type of brewery-restaurant with plenty of area dedicated for outdoor green space. Improved connection is part of the plan, including solving the difficulty of turning into the property from Range Line Road. An underground parking garage with an entrance off Range Line is possible. Site planners are looking at how to develop the project in stages which means they could proceed even if the Arby’s isn’t relocated and the roundabout isn’t constructed, but CRC Director Corrie Meyer said, “The roundabout should be part of the plan.”


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