NEW ALBANY — The first phase of the Mount Tabor Road project, from Grant Line Road to just short of the Klerner Lane intersection, is expected to be completed in mid-July.
While the project is winding down, the fight is far from over, according to resident Kelly Feiock.
Feiock told the New Albany City Council last week that the city misappropriated government funds by abusing the power of eminent domain. While the city bought property along Mount Tabor for sidewalks, Feiock claims it purchased more than what was needed for public utility right-of-way, which she said breaks Indiana code.
"In this case, Duke Energy is responsible for using the power of eminent domain for rights-of-way. In doing so, Duke Energy should take, acquire, condemn, and appropriate an easement itself," she said.
Instead of completing the entire section of Mount Tabor, the city decided to do the work in phases. Sidewalks and gutters are a big part of the project, as is a retaining wall near the Oakwood subdivision. The Mount Tabor work is an 80/20 federally funded project, meaning the city only pays 20 percent of the $3.1 million phase one cost.
City engineer Larry Summers said bids came in too high, around $6 million, to complete the entire road at one time, which is why it is being completed in phases. Included in phase one is also a retaining wall behind Kahl's Body Shop.
Summers said the city never receives funds for federal projects; the Indiana Department of Transportation holds the funds. He said the city submits its 20 percent match to the state and it administers the project from there.
PHOTOS: Mt. Tabor Road Construction
AllTerrain Paving crews spent Monday leveling and grading the gravel roadway as they prepare for paving this week. Supporting shafts have been inserted to prevent erosion on the steep incline along Slate Run creek and pathways are being cleared for future sidewalks along the roadway. While work won't be completed until later this year, the area is beginning to take shape.
New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said there is nothing wrong with the way the project was handled, stating that it has been talked about for more than five years. He said in order to receive federal funds, the first phase had to be completed this year.
At one time, a roundabout was planned for the intersection of Mount Tabor Road and Klerner Lane, but the mayor said after residents voiced concerns at a public meeting, that was taken out of the plans. But Feiock said it had nothing to do with complaints, but with a traffic count.
"This is a federally funded project. Don't you think if there were any issues with it, they would have let us know about it?" Gahan said. "This is a federal aid project, so all the boxes have been checked. This is a good project. I think people will really appreciate the sidewalks and the restoration of the hill. This project is moving forward and has a July completion date."
Some neighbors along the stretch of Mount Tabor, including Feiock, have questioned the plans for putting sidewalks on both sides of the road, saying they were only needed on one side. Homeowners were given money for portions of their land for the sidewalks and grass buffers. There were 21 people who did not settle initially with the city, but eventually all parties reached an agreement on price, including Feiock.
Attorney Greg Fifer represented the city during the land acquisition and said the final case was settled last fall through mediation.
But Feiock said she lives on the other side of the intersection, and since there are no plans for when phase two will begin, she asks why did the city already spend money to purchase her land?
"At this point I am not worried about the 10 feet of buffer for the sidewalk, but I am upset with the extra 13 feet [utility easement]," she said. "It was done illegally and I want it back, and I am not willing to pay for it. I have asked the State Board of Accounts to give the land back to us. This project has been such a mess.
"The city used INDOT funds to buy land on behalf of Duke Energy," Feiock said.
Gahan said everything with the project has been done legally, reiterating that with federal money paying for 80 percent of the project, all funds have been accounted for. He also said with this being an election year, some of the discontent is politically motivated.
"Most people want sidewalks in their neighborhood. This is going to connect the surrounding neighborhoods and kids will be able to walk to school," he said. "This was a really big project and there is a lot going on with it. It's a solid project and we won't have to worry about that road for 30 years."