News and Tribune

September 17, 2013

Two-way streets lead to two council plans in New Albany

Gonder wants immediate conversion, others want study


NEW ALBANY — Two measures up for a vote this week would move New Albany toward converting some downtown streets to two-way traffic; however, they set different paths to accomplish the transitions.

Councilman John Gonder is sponsoring a resolution calling for the immediate conversion of Market, Bank and Pearl streets to two-way flow. Spring Street and Elm Street would also be up for transition to two-way traffic under the plan, but Gonder calls for the intersections at Vincennes and State streets on Spring and Elm to be studied prior to a conversion.

Councilman Greg Phipps is calling for the body to split the cost of a $60,000 engineering study that would consider switching downtown streets to two-way traffic.

Gonder said on Tuesday spending $60,000 on a “stamp of approval” to convert streets to two-way flow isn’t fiscally sound.

“Most people probably don’t care in all honesty, but the ones that do care want them to go back to two-way and they have pretty cogent reasons as to why to do it,” he said.

Proponents of two-way streets believe the conversion will benefit downtown businesses as well as ease traffic flow especially when more vehicles flow into Floyd County, as anticipated, when tolling begins on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

Phipps represents a sizable portion of downtown, and said earlier this month that two-way streets is the most common issue raised to him by residents.

“I think it’s time that we do something,” he said.

Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration has agreed to foot the remaining $30,000 needed for the study. Councilman Scott Blair said earlier this month the city should study the consequences of converting streets to two-way traffic before approving the move.

John Rosenbarger, supervisor of public facilities projects for the city, said a 2007 study that included some examination of transition to two-way streets wasn’t comprehensive. The study didn’t provide guidance, for example, on what will be needed to usher traffic flow from one-way to two-way safely and adequately, he said.

“I don’t think there’s any down side to going forward and taking a hard look at it,” Rosenbarger said.

But Gonder said there’s no rationale to spend $60,000 to study converting most of the downtown streets to two-way traffic.

The intersections at Elm Street and State Street on Spring and Elm streets are essentially the two intersections that would need to be studied, he continued.

Based on prior administration estimates, Gonder said the city should be able to analyze those intersections for $8,000 to $12,000.

Though the council will likely decide whether to move forward with footing a study or supporting the immediate transition to two-way streets on Thursday, the body doesn’t hold the authority to mandate a conversion.

The New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety — which consists of three members appointed by the mayor — holds jurisdiction over municipal property such as streets.

Phipps’ measure will require three ballots, the first of two will be taken on Thursday. If it is approved on initial readings, the final vote will likely be taken on the $30,000 appropriation of Riverboat Funds on Oct. 7.

Jobs called for in tolling resolution

Gonder is also sponsoring a resolution calling for Ohio River Bridges’ officials to hire actual people to collect tolls instead of using primarily machines and scanners.

Citing savings in commute times and increased efficiency, bridges officials plan to use a scanner system mainly for frequent commuters to avoid drivers having to pull over to a booth each time they cross a tolled bridge.

But Gonder said that system doesn’t recognize the human element of the project.

After construction is completed, people won’t have direct jobs related to the bridges, Gonder said. Proponents of the project tout it will boost economic development in the region due to improved transportation, but Gonder said employing people to collect tolls will at least pay some residents back for their investment in the new bridges.

Paying a company to collect tolls through machines is “extracting the earning power” of the community, he said.

“We’re going to be paying for this for 30 years or longer, and at least some people could have a job out of the deal,” Gonder said.

He conceded there’s little chance the plan to use scanners and video systems for tolling will change, but said it’s important to note publicly that officials are paying attention to the project and its ramifications.

Thursday’s meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor Assembly Room of the City-County Building.