Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard held a press conference on Feb. 25 to outline his plan for improving the city infrastructure in the East Side of Carmel. Some called it a bold commitment while others said it was a campaign speech veiled as city business.
Some of the projects outlined – which include new roundabouts, pathways, landscaping projects, road improvements and more – are already underway for 2015 while others haven’t been approved yet by the Carmel City Council and could be years away. Brainard said the city can complete the list of projects in the next four to six years.
After spending millions updating the Southwest portion of Clay Township following the annexation and millions upgrading Keystone Avenue in Carmel, Brainard said it was time to turn the focus on the other side of town.
No cost estimates were provided because Brainard said it was too early and didn’t want to provide inaccurate figures. He didn’t specify if bonds would be used for the projects, only saying that Carmel has the “capacity” to pay for them.
“I learned from the Keystone project that it’s not wise to talk about early estimates until we’re able to develop full budget for these projects,” he said. “When the full budgets are finalized I’ll be happy to share that. We will look at a variety of funding sources: federal, state and local.”
City Councilor Sue Finkam, a supporter of Brainard who represents the Northeast part of Carmel, said she’s happy that the mayor has made a strong commitment to these much-needed projects. While many of the projects were already being discussed in council chambers, she said a public press conference make the priority very clear.
“We invested almost $30 million in the area since 2010 and this is just a continuation of improving our infrastructure,” she said. “The mayor has outlined all of the intersections that are a concern for my constituents on the northeast side and I’m excited to see this come to fruition because it’s needed.”
Finkam said this is the first time there’s been a timeline attached to some of these projects.
“He’s put a stake in the ground that we’re moving forward with these projects,” she said.
Former City Councilor John Accetturo, who is running against Finkam, said he supports investing in roads on his side of town, but said that Carmel has nearly a $1 billion in debt and therefore the reality is that a new financial strategy has be taken to finish these projects.
City Council President Rick Sharp, who is running against the five-term mayor, posted on his Facebook page that, “I am happy to announce that my campaign is already having a positive effect in Carmel. The mayor is holding a media event to announce infrastructure improvements that will affect Carmel citizens. A main point of my campaign is to refocus our efforts at maintaining and improving aging neighborhood infrastructure which has been long neglected by this Administration. It seems we are already having an impact!”
But Sharp also said that Brainard’s “plan” basically amounted to a campaign promise if there isn’t a concrete strategy to implement it.
“I looked at today’s new conference as more of a campaign event,” he said. “And I applaud the mayor for that. It’s the power of the incumbency. You can continue to announce. It’s kind of like the groundbreaking for the completion of city center was announced three times in the course of eighteen months. It’s an event and that’s a part of politics.”
Sharp said it’s part of Brainard’s strategy to keep “re-announcing” projects in order to get more media attention. He also wonders if Carmel can pay for these projects.
“While I would love to complete all of these projects, Carmel has no available credit to bond these projects,” Sharp said.
Accetturo said he thought Brainard’s speech was in response to comments that both he and Sharp made about the need for infrastructure improvements, especially east of Keystone.
“Many of the infrastructure projects proposed by Carmel today for areas east of Keystone Parkway do have merit,” he stated. “The area east of Keystone Parkway has been neglected for over a decade while hundreds of millions of dollars have been give to developers for projects in the core of Carmel. Proposing new projects without cost estimated and specific funding plans is no more than an election ploy. Carmel’s debt stands at about $1 billion, credits lines are saturated, and cash on hand is insufficient.”
But to Brainard supporters this speech and plan is just a strong commitment to this side of town and the organized list provides transparency for taxpayers and residents who want to know what the city is planning to do in the future.
“This way they know what’s coming if people have ideas or concerns and they have the opportunity to give us their thoughts early on in the planning process,” he said.
Finkam posted on Facebook that she thought Brainard’s speech is proof that her constituents’ feedback has been heard by his administration.
“It’s clear (that Brainard) has been listening to the needs of northeast families,” she wrote.
One of the biggest – and most immediate – projects, a new fire station on Main Street was previously reported in Current in Carmel. It involves tearing down Fire Station 44 and building a new, larger building on the land. Construction should be complete by summer 2016 and will be paid for by Clay Township and officials have promised that there will be no new taxes to pay for it.
One of the most controversial projects is to “expedite progress for a roundabout interchange at 96th Street and Keystone Avenue,” which Sharp raised questions about. He said it’s untrue that businesses such as Ruth’s Chris steakhouse moved because of traffic slowdowns. Finkam disagreed with Sharp’s opinion, saying traffic is backed up at that intersection often.
New roundabouts and bike path extensions are also in the works. Landscaping was always wanted along Keystone but the recession but that on hold and now Brainard wants to get that done. He also would like landscaping to hide the Carmel Wastewater Treatment Plant at Hazel Dell Parkway at 96th Street.
Here’s a complete list of the projects suggested:
New Fire Station on Main Street – built in conjunction with Township; Designed; Bid this spring.
River Road reconstruction and realignment from 116th to 126th Street to remove dangerous curves south and east of Plum Creek Golf Club
River Road north of Main Street to Prairie Trace Elementary – expansion to 3-lane Blvd.
96th and Keystone – expedite progress for roundabout interchange
96th Street from White River to Keystone Parkway – removal of traffic signals, construction of roundabouts to improve traffic flow and eliminate congestion
116th and Gray Road – new roundabout
116th and Hazel Dell Parkway – new roundabout
126th and Gray Road – new roundabout
Main Street and Gray Road – new roundabout
136th Street and Gray Road – new roundabout
136th Street and Carey Road – new roundabout
136th Street – Currently under construction bike path project from Keystone to Gray Road
Main Street – Currently under construction bike path project from Keystone to Gray Road
Gray Road – Bike path extension to complete access from 96th Street to 146th Street
126th Street from Keystone Parkway to River Road – Bike path improvements
116th Street from Keystone Parkway to River Road – Bike path improvements
Roundabouts at each interchange along Keystone Parkway
Roundabout at 126th and Hazel Dell Parkway
Roundabout at Main Street and Hazel Dell Parkway
Carmel Wastewater Treatment Plant, Hazel Dell Parkway at 96th Street
PARKS AND RECREATION
White River Greenway – Expansion north of this river-hugging greenway to 146th Street, working with Conner Prairie on land acquisition.
Founders Park – Adding a boardwalk along an area of the pond and parking lot lighting.