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Residents upset with intersection proposal

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Skeptical residents expressed opposition last week to a proposed traffic roundabout at County Road 400S and U.S. 31 because of cost and safety concerns.

About 40 people attended the public comment session Wednesday at Clifty Creek Elementary School, listening to state Department of Transportation representatives touting the safety, efficiency and other virtues of roundabouts.

Such remarks were met with disapproving murmurs from the crowd.

All but one of about 10 residents who spoke said they were opposed to the project.

The roundabout would be part of Southern Crossing, the main route cutting across the southern part of Bartholomew County, made up of County Road 400S at U.S. 31, the Southern Crossing bridge and County Road 450S at State Road 11.

Kerry Young, a Cummins Inc. employee and resident of County Road 600S, said he drives through the intersection twice a day. He took exception to several reputed benefits to roundabouts, such as the idea that a roundabout requires less maintenance that an intersection with stoplights. He pointed to the need to maintain the plants that will be grown in the center of the traffic circle.

“You are telling us that it is safer, show us that it is safer. You have not shown us anything,” Young said.

He said that he thinks the project, planned for 2015, already is a done deal.

“This is all political, trying to act like we have some input on where our tax dollars are spent. And we don’t,” Young said.

Steve Hoevener, a resident who lives on U.S. 31, said that the state should spend its road money first on necessary improvements such as out-of-date bridges.

“Once we have more money, then do these goody-goodies,” Hoevener said.

Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, was the only person to speak in favor of the proposal. He said he generally supports well-designed roundabouts, contending that they lead to large improvements in public safety.

One of the key concepts expressed by INDOT planners was that roundabouts virtually eliminate head-on collisions or T-bone crashes, reducing most crashes to low-speed sideswipes.

Anne Ogle quizzed the

INDOT officials about the statistics behind the safety assertions. She said that she wanted to see comparisons of similarly placed roundabouts — those on high-speed state highways on rural roads.

Jorge Morales, president of Bartholomew County Council, said the state should be spending tax money wisely and that there were many unanswered questions about the need for the project, its cost and benefits.

“This sounds to me like a done deal, so I don’t know what we are doing,” Morales said. “What kind of input are we going to have if (INDOT) is going to go forward with buying land? It doesn’t seem to me that this is a fair or transparent way to do business.”

Mary Wright, with INDOT’s office of public involvement, said the proposal was far from certain and that was why the agency was seeking public comments.

Several audience members said they were concerned there was only a two-week public comment period, which they didn’t see as enough time to fight the proposal. Wright suggested that residents could take their concerns about the limited comment period to their state legislators or the governor’s staff.

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, sat near the back of the crowd but took the microphone during the public comment segment, promising to personally bring public concerns to Gov. Mike Pence, a Columbus native. Smith’s comments drew loud applause from the crowd.

Several audience members said the temporary traffic lights at the intersection have recently been stopping traffic for longer periods even when there is no traffic, making the intersection more inconvenient.

Bill Gordon, a resident of County Road 500S, attributed that to INDOT tinkering with the timing to make residents more likely to welcome the roundabout solution.

“That is just there to irritate the drivers now so that they will see the pluses and advantages of having a roundabout,” he said.

Harry Maginity, spokesman for INDOT’s Seymour District, said there are several roundabouts on rural state highways around the state, with the closest one on State Road 144 near Mooresville.

He said Hamilton County officials calculated a 78 percent reduction in accidents with injuries at Carmel’s roundabouts. Carmel has more than 60 roundabouts, more than any other U.S. city.

A 2000 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculated a 76 percent reduction in injury accidents and a 90 percent reduction in fatal accidents at intersections replaced with roundabouts, Maginity said.

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