By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
The scope of work that will be included in a comprehensive study of New Albany’s downtown street grid was agreed upon Tuesday, and ways to fund the survey could be determined by the end of the month.
The New Albany Redevelopment Commission by a 3-1 vote approved the parameters of the study and gave its blessing for the administration to move ahead with seeking a firm and funding for the research.
In addition to reviewing previous studies such as the inner-city grid examination conducted in 2007, the commission and administration are also calling for an evaluation of traffic movements and the possible conversion of some downtown streets to two-way traffic.
While many city officials have stated they support two-way streets, there has not been a consensus on what should be done to accomplish such a conversion.
Last year, the New Albany City Council failed to pass matching funds for a street study as some council members didn’t support spending money to examine what they felt could be handled by city staff.
There’s also varying opinions on whether all downtown streets should be converted to two-way traffic or only some.
David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city, said Tuesday that a comprehensive traffic study will provide expert insight on what New Albany can do to make its traffic grid safer without isolating vehicle movement.
With the Ohio River Bridges Project underway, New Albany will receive more traffic with the Sherman Minton Bridge not being tolled, he said.
New Albany isn’t prepared to handle that traffic currently, nor are there existing staff members who have the time or expertise to adequately study the grid, Duggins continued.
Irving Joshua, president of the redevelopment commission, added that the city should also be considering ways to capitalize on the additional traffic.
“We don’t want it to disrupt downtown but we do want to see if we can get something positive out of all of it,” Joshua said.
As traffic patterns will likely change when the bridges are completed, New Albany stands to become somewhat of a destination city if it wisely plans out its future, he continued.
However, the effect of the thousands of additional vehicles that are estimated to travel downtown streets in New Albany once tolling begins in Clark County is disputed.
Councilman John Gonder was the only member of the redevelopment commission to vote against proceeding with the study. He also voted against appropriating funds for a street survey last year on the council.
While he supports two-way streets, Gonder said he believes the commission should wait before approving such a study. Nationally-acclaimed author and planner Jeff Speck is slated to speak in New Albany on Thursday, and it would be helpful to gauge his insight on traffic flow before pursuing another study, Gonder continued.
He doesn’t believe many of the motorists that will be driving through New Albany on Spring Street or Elm Street will be looking to stop to frequent a downtown business.
“They don’t care about buying a hamburger or getting a drink,” Gonder said. “They just want to get through town and get on the bridge.”
Out of town traffic already pours through a portion of downtown to access the Horseshoe Casino in Harrison County, he continued.
But councilman and redevelopment member Dan Coffey also believes the city can profit from the additional traffic.
When Interstate 64 was constructed it essentially served as a bypass around New Albany and cut downtown in half, he said.
“If we do this right, we can really make the town boom again,” Coffey said.
There’s more to calming traffic flow than just converting streets to two-way, Duggins added. For example, Spring Street eastbound after Vincennes Street is two-way, however, it has the feel of an interstate, he continued.
The city-hired firm Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz prepared the scope of work document, and President Jorge Lanz recommended a firm that specializes in traffic flow be hired to prepare the study.
With the ORBP underway, it’s incumbent upon New Albany to form a plan to create a safe and sensible traffic plan for motorists and cyclists, he said.
“This thing is too important for the city,” Lanz said.
Funding and costs for the study are expected to be discussed by the commission later this month.
The scope of work document approved by the commission also calls for “highly engaging public meetings to obtain input from the public and stakeholders.”
Commission member Adam Dickey also requested the city consider the impact of changing the street grid on historical properties.
The study would also determine preliminary engineering and construction costs for any improvements or changes in the street network.