FORT WAYNE – It’s not often that you get to see 20 years into the future. Or that the opportunity to do so comes with the chance to shape that future.
But that’s exactly what will happen Monday when the Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council hosts an open house to unveil the draft of its 2035 Transportation Plan.
From 4 to 7 p.m. in the Omni Room of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St., you’ll be able to see the next two decades of road and trail projects for the bulk of Allen County and share your thoughts on what’s there or what isn’t.
The Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council – known as NIRCC – doesn’t make a lot of news and usually maintains a long-term, regional perspective. But its work has a profound, daily effect on the community.
The transportation plan doesn’t always get a high level of scrutiny, partly because the projects are spread over a 20-year time period, NIRCC Executive Director Dan Avery said.
But that is a big missed opportunity, Avery said.
We would like to get more input early on, but it’s hard, he said.
Part of the barrier to getting input may be the group’s visibility, or lack thereof. The city of Fort Wayne’s Board of Public Works gets media attention because it spends millions of dollars. NIRCC makes much of that spending possible.
The way it does that is by operating as the regional transportation planning agency – required for the millions of dollars in federal transportation money that flows to local governments in and around Fort Wayne, including New Haven, Allen County, Fort Wayne International Airport and Citilink.
The area gets about $20 million a year in federal funding, up from about $1 million a year in the 1980s.
The federal process requires a regional transportation plan, Avery said. They’re protecting their investment of federal money and ensuring there’s a plan everyone’s agreed to, that it’s consistent and that we’ve all agreed it’s a primary corridor.
The we Avery refers to is NIRCC – which technically operates as a separate agency, but is made up of the local transportation agencies. NIRCC doesn’t dictate to them, Avery said, NIRCC is them.
It’s those folks collectively, he said, coming together and determining how these funds should be spent.
And those agencies retain all their discretion over those projects – for example, the city of Fort Wayne projects must still be approved by the Board of Public Works and the City Council. Major projects can require public hearings.
We do a lot of analysis, monitor traffic flow and forecast traffic flow, Avery said. But it’s not as if we propose something they’re not agreeable to.
NIRCC also makes sure those proposals fit with the city-county comprehensive land-use plan, which governs development.
The comprehensive plan gives us a good idea on how the community wants to develop, Avery said. So we can try to build the infrastructure to fit what will be built.
The coordinated planning process also ensures projects aren’t built in a vacuum and work together, he said, citing Maplecrest Road.
The recent extension of the road across the Maumee River was just the latest in a long line of projects along that corridor, from county and state projects at the north end, to the city’s project to widen the segment between Lake Avenue and State Boulevard, which is scheduled to be bid in September.
Bob Kennedy, Fort Wayne’s director of Public Works, said that while the NIRCC planning process is vital, it is also just a plan, and not set in stone.
One thing people don’t understand is no project moves forward in the federal process until the city moves it forward, Kennedy said. Yes, it’s in conjunction with others, but they’re still city projects. They still need City Council approval.
And plans can change.
The transportation plan once called for Wells Street to be widened to four-lanes. Not anymore.
That’s never going to happen, Kennedy said.
Neither will plans to widen Goshen Road, as development that officials expected to occur in the northwest part of the city never materialized. The draft of the 2035 plan calls for Goshen to be rebuilt to urban standards, with curbs and gutters, but does not include new travel lanes.
That’s all been changed, he said.
Officials also said plans change due to public input.
It’s important for people to get engaged early in the process, Kennedy said. We want to know about problems they see or things they’d like improved.
Avery said Monday’s open house is geared toward not just showing the draft plan to the public but to getting feedback.
We want them to ask questions, we want them to react to what we’re proposing, he said. We want to show what we see as priorities and hear from them on what they think.