The IN-45/46 bypass is a major thoroughfare for drivers leaving and entering the city. The bypass connects Indiana University’s campus to developing areas of town like Bloomington’s technology park and Lake Monroe. But congestion on the highway is causing problems. Commuters are frustrated by the time they’re forced to wait during peak traffic periods, sometimes sitting through 3 or more light cycles at a time—which is exactly why the road is slated for improvement, But City Planning director Tom Micuda said that improvement has been a long time coming.
“There have been two principal reasons the project was delayed,” he said. “Funding. State, local and national governments are all dealing with funding shortfalls. They do have the funding in place at this point, which was very uncertain a few years ago. The other reason that there were delays is there have been direct discussions between the city, Indiana University and INDOT regarding what this project would be designed to look like.”
Dollars earmarked from the state’s Major Moves initiative have cleared up concerns about financing the project, but even after nearly two decades of discussion, disagreement about the project’s final design continues to be a major topic of contention in the community. City officials say they’ve worked with INDOT engineers to design a road better suited to the needs of the community. Micuda says Mayor Mark Kruzan lobbied for improvements like a bike path following the entirety of the road and a pedestrian underpass at 7th street. And, in fact, Kruzan says, for the most part, the city’s suggestions to make the road more bike and pedestrian friendly were incorporated—except, that is, for one. Kruzan said in his state of the city address earlier this year he’d hoped INDOT’s final plans would include a pedestrian overpass—a suggestion Kruzan said IU officials asked INDOT to deny.
IU Vice President for Capital Projects and Facilities Tom Morrison said that’s because of aesthetics, as well as for safety reasons. Morrison said he worried building a steep incline to get over road would result in pedestrians and cyclists hurrying across the intersection as the light changes, rather than bothering to hike up the hill.
“One of the things that I’ve learned in this business is that evaluating pedestrian safety and traffic safety is the job of engineers who know that business,” Morrison said. “One of the things we know when we get into those studies is everyone brings their own personal thoughts of well, ‘that’ll work or that’ll work.’ And we always want to say well, there are people who do this, you know, for a living.”
But some residents, like City Council member Steve Volan, disagree.
The arguments made by engineers about, well, we do this for safety are not context sensitive,” Volan argued. “They are designing the road, all too often, in a vacuum without a practical thought as to how the community will interact with the road.”
Volan hosted a series of community design meetings, in which he encouraged community members to tweak and critique INDOT’s highway design. Volan says the problem with INDOT’s design as it stands is that it no longer bypasses the city, but rather runs right through it. Meeting-goers wanted a road design that better reflected that, saying they’d like to see narrower lane widths to slow down traffic and more pedestrian activated cross walks.
Volan even showed his plan to state officials at an INDOT open house in Bloomington, but by that time, INDOT spokesperson Will Wingfield said, the date had passed for making major design changes.
N”As far as changes go, this project has been discussed for a number of years—the better part of two decades at this point,” Wingfield said. “So, at some point we have to move from discussion to action and that’s where we’re moving.
And even some project detractors like Jessie Rome, administrator for the Facebook group “Bloomington Residents Opposed to the Bypass Plan,” have begun to ease their opposition.
“I think in some ways the people who would maybe organize against it are getting tired,” she said. “I think in some way for awhile we thought if we just keep putting it off and putting it off well maybe the money will run out.”
Officials are expected to award bids next week with construction starting as early as June 14th and running through November 2012.