News and Tribune

July 10, 2013

New Albany councilwoman, residents question status of Slate Run Road project

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY —

Funding set aside for a $4 million upgrade to Slate Run Road in New Albany could go toward other projects, making unclear the future of the road improvements.

The Charlestown Road TIF district was to fund the effort, but with other projects coming online that will use the same TIF dollars, city officials are taking a second look at their priorities -- upsetting some residents.

New Albany City Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti, who represents the area that would be affected by the Slate Run makeover, questioned the status of the project during Tuesday’s Redevelopment Commission meeting. 

According to Benedetti, residents along Slate Run Road and the surrounding neighborhoods have pressed her about the project, which now has no clear start date. 

“They’re kind of screaming out there because we held public hearings and voted on certain things,” said Benedetti in reference to when she served as a council liaison on the redevelopment commission. She no longer serves as liaison.

Among the upgrades, Slate Run Road was to receive new sidewalks, curbs and drainage improvement as part of the proposed tax-increment financing project. But with other initiatives -- including a multiuse sports facility at the former Hoosier Panel site -- to be footed through the Charlestown Road TIF district, the Slate Run Road plan is being reviewed, according to David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city. 

We’re “still looking at the overall financial impact” of the project, he said. 

In 2010, under then Mayor Doug England, the city held public meetings and asked for input on the project. 

City officials said at the time it was important to upgrade Slate Run Road’s pedestrian access. 

Pedestrian safety was also a point raised by Councilman John Gonder — who along with Dan Coffey are current council liaisons on the redevelopment commission — when he learned this week that the Slate Run project’s future is questionable. 

“I think it’s just horrible that we have a situation with roads where people really can’t walk — they have to get out in the middle of the street,” Gonder said. 

With the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. discussing the potential of expanding Slate Run Elementary School, Benedetti said the road project could be vital when it comes to safety. 

“If that passes, then it’s a very dangerous road,” Benedetti said of the expansion.

She added the street is already hazardous for pedestrians because of the lack of sidewalks. 

The school system has had preliminary talks about a referendum to expand Slate Run Elementary, but a timetable hasn’t been set for such a move. 

In 2010, engineers proposed adding curbs and gutters to about 1.8 miles of Slate Run Road. Sidewalks on both sides of the road were to be added, and portions of the street were to be rebuilt under the plan. 

Gonder voiced another concern: If the city realizes there’s a trouble spot on a public facility, and it does nothing to address the problem, the municipality becomes almost complicit in any accident that occurs. 

“We should find the money to do those projects,” he said. 

The city remains committed to street projects for Mount Tabor Road and McDonald Lane, Duggins said. Unlike Slate Run Road, those efforts are being fueled by federal grants that will cover 80 percent of the costs of the projects. 

Duggins said work has essentially started on the estimated $4 million Mount Tabor Road project, as land acquisition and right-of-way negotiations have begun. 

Duggins told Benedetti he would further discuss the Slate Run Road project with administrative staff and provide an update to her. 

He didn’t specify when he would report back, but Benedetti said the residents just want a definitive answer. 

“If it’s not something that’s going to be done,” she said, “we just need to be told.”