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Unintended consequences

A resolution intended to change the State Boulevard project could affect many others.
The Journal Gazette

The City Council has already approved funding to widen State Boulevard west of Clinton Street, but Councilman John Shoaff’s effort to change the project could threaten millions of dollars in federal funding for local road projects.

A resolution Shoaff introduced on Tuesday seeks to make Fort Wayne’s transportation-planning process more sensitive to residents’ interests. But if a government planning agency follows the request contained in the resolution, the city could lose federal money.

“I’m not comfortable with the resolution ’cause it would take away federal dollars,” said Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd. “I can’t support that. It’s got to be tweaked before I could back it. We need that money.”

Shoaff’s resolution calls for re-evaluating the goals of the Northeast Indiana Coordinating Council’s 2030 Transportation Plan. It suggests that transportation plans use American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ design guidelines rather than Indiana Department of Transportation standards. One of the main functions of the coordinating council is to develop transportation plans that meet with federal government approval.

“What I’m looking for in a general way is better planning between planning officials and the community,” Shoaff said. He thinks the current transportation plan is outdated and focuses too much on moving traffic, while ignoring the effects on neighborhoods and property values.

The City Council cannot change the plan, but Shoaff’s resolution calls for the council to formally ask the regional transportation group to change it. If that happens, the federal government could reject it.

Dan Avery, executive director of NIRCC, said the resolution could put at risk $27 million in federally aided projects in the city. “The process is very proscriptive. If we don’t follow that (federal guidelines), we could put the federal funding in jeopardy.”

It could also hamper city requests for federal transportation dollars for future projects.

The resolution appears to be little more than Shoaff’s latest attempt to stymie the widening and straightening of State Boulevard, a project the council approved several years ago.

While council members are certainly within their rights to protect the city’s quality of life, residents and their representatives should ask: Do we really want council members drawing specifications for street projects?

Didier, who represents the district where the project is located, said, “I’m for the project. I don’t want to detour from that.”

The project is needed to improve safety for residents living near that stretch of the road.

Bob Kennedy, the city’s director of public works, said the city already “incorporates a lot of the AASHTO standards,” but they can’t use all of them. Often the city has to add things that aren’t a part of the federal standards after the project is completed and pay for those things out of city money. For example, the city is planning to plant trees in a grassy median as part of the State Boulevard project. The trees will improve the appearance of the neighborhood and act as a safety feature by slowing traffic. INDOT standards call for trees to be 10 feet away from streets.

City officials absolutely should keep residents’ needs and concerns as the top priority when designing any project. When council members discuss the proposed resolution in two weeks, they should discuss ways to improve transportation planning and communication with residents. But they should vote against the resolution in its current form.

It is shortsighted to enact a resolution with the aim of halting one project when the long-term result could be the demise of many future projects.